It may feel like the entire world is focused on COVID-19, but the coronavirus isn’t the only disease that medical researchers are trying to cure — and one reminder of that falls in June. In just a few weeks, it will be Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
In the United States, more than 5 million adults age 65 and older currently have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. What’s more, the Alzheimer’s Association’s new survey and report finds that 87 percent of primary care physicians expect to see diagnoses of dementia rise in the next five years, with the number of people living with Alzheimer’s to nearly triple by 2050.
Here at the Episcopal Church Home, we know just how upsetting an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be a senior and his or her loved ones — but we’re also full of hope. That’s why we’re always keeping an eye on the latest news about Alzheimer’s disease breakthroughs.
Finding Hope for Dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease
In the past 20 years, 150 dementia-related drug trials have yielded only four approved drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Just last year, trials of the drug Aducanumab looked like they might fall short too, however additional data proved convincing enough that Biogen reversed its decision to end the trials. Instead, the drug maker filed an application with the FDA to approve aducanumab as an Alzheimer’s disease treatment.
What other positive signs are on the horizon?
1. Gaining a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease with PET scans
At the start of 2020, an article published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine, found that advanced positron emission tomography (PET) imaging can help doctors see tau tangles in the brain, which researchers suspect are a major factor in Alzheimer’s disease. By tracking the regions of the brain showing the most tau tangles, doctors may be able to predict how individual patients will be affected by Alzheimer’s.
Rebecca Edelmayer, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer's Association, tells US News that the study is “helping to better elucidate an understanding of those changes that are occurring in the brain and at what point they are happening, so we can better predict disease progression and also use it as a way to develop new therapeutics.”
2. Tackling plagues typical in Alzheimer’s patients
A variety of drugs are being tested for preventing or removing plaques that build up in the brain over the course of Alzheimer’s disease. The Mayo Clinic reports that a variety of drug therapies are being tested, ranging from the use of a saracatinib to potentially reverse memory loss to a number of production blockers researchers hope can inhibit enzymes thought to cause Alzheimer’s.
3. Studying the relationship between heart disease and brain health
The Mayo Clinic also notes that “The risk of developing Alzheimer's appears to increase as a result of many conditions that damage the heart or arteries. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol.” As a result, several studies are focusing on the use of existing drugs or hormone therapy to reduce the risk of developing dementia, as well as promoting heart-healthy lifestyles that could have a secondary benefit of helping to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
4. Facilitating data sharing from clinical trials
The discovery process can be slowed when knowledge sharing doesn’t take place. That’s why the public-private partnership called CPAD — or the Critical Path for Alzheimer’s Disease — was established. Pharmaceutical companies, non-profit foundations, and government advisors are working together to share standardized data from Alzheimer’s clinical trials to help identify the most effective therapies among the many contenders.
Celebrating Alzheimer’s Awareness Month
We may still be practicing social distancing to some degree when June rolls around, but that shouldn’t put a damper on Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and the important, ongoing research to find effective treatments — and, hopefully, prevention — for dementia.
“While no one can change the outcome of dementia or Alzheimer’s, with the right support you can change the journey,” writes Tara Reed in her book, What to Do Between the Tears: A Practical Guide to Dealing with a Dementia or Alzheimer’s Diagnosis in the Family. The Episcopal Church Home is here to help you along the way. Download our Dementia Guide to learn more about the disease, options for treatment, and how to evaluate memory care facilities.