Alzheimer's and Dementia: The Latest Developments

Elderly Care

Current treatments available for dementia and Alzheimer's disease help with the temporary improvement of the symptoms. These therapies can provide patients with better thinking, reasoning and memory. 

The prevailing Alzheimer's treatments improve the performance of brain chemicals that pass information from one cell to another. However, these remedies do not help with the continuous death and decline of brain cells. The constant deterioration of brain cells contributes to the progress of Alzheimer's disease. 

Experts are hopeful about developing drugs and treatments that can delay the deterioration of brain cells and stop Alzheimer's from progressing. There is more understanding of how the disease works, which can lead to developing treatments that can halt the processes of Alzheimer's in our brains.  

Treatments for some cancers and HIV/AIDS include multiple drugs. The future therapies for Alzheimer's will also likely involve more than one drug. Researchers are working day and night to provide help and relief to patients with dementia and Alzheimer's. 

What is Dementia? 

A group of symptoms that don't have a definitive diagnosis is known as a syndrome, which is precisely what dementia is. Dementia is not a disease; it's a syndrome. A group of symptoms that affect the brain's cognitive tasks, such as reasoning and memory, is known as dementia. 

Various conditions can lead to dementia developing in a person. When dementia is caused by multiple conditions, it is known as mixed dementia. Having more than one type of dementia can be extremely traumatizing to a patient. The only way to confirm if a person had mixed dementia is through an autopsy after death. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 47.5 million people worldwide have to live with dementia. This syndrome takes away a person's ability to function independently as it progresses. Dementia puts the family members and caregivers of the patient in a difficult situation as they have to face emotional and financial burdens. 

What is Alzheimer's Disease? 

Alzheimer's disease falls under the umbrella term of dementia. It is one of the conditions that can cause dementia. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that affects the brain. It causes impairment in cognitive functions like memory and reasoning. 

There is no cure available for Alzheimer's as the exact cause is still unknown. The National Institutes of Health have claimed that over 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer's disease. While younger people can get this disease, the symptoms usually start to show after the age of 60.

People who get diagnosed at a younger age have to live with the disease for a longer time. Years before the symptoms of Alzheimer's start to show, the damage to brain cells begins taking place. 

The cells in the brain of a person with Alzheimer's start losing connection with each other, and they begin to deteriorate and die. In people with advanced Alzheimer's, the brain begins to shrink over the years. Diagnosing Alzheimer's with 100% accuracy in a person who is alive is not possible. Specialists can still make correct Alzheimer's diagnoses 90% of the time while the patient is alive. 

The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's Symptoms

Alzheimer's vs. dementia can be confusing for many people. It can be challenging to think that both of them are different. The symptoms between both dementia and Alzheimer's can overlap at times, but there are some differences between them. 

Both the conditions can cause the following:

  • An impaired memory
  • A decline in the ability to think 
  • Weakened communication skills 

The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include the following:

  • Depression
  • Impaired judgment
  • Difficulty remembering recent conversations and events
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Apathy
  • Difficulty walking (in the later stages of the disease)

There are types of dementia that have the same symptoms as Alzheimer's. However, other symptoms can be included or excluded that can help specialists make a differential diagnosis. For example, people with Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) have many of the same symptoms as later stages of Alzheimer's. Still, the initial symptoms of LBD include sleep disturbances, trouble with balance, visual hallucinations and more. 

Dementia vs. Alzheimer's Treatment 

The treatment for dementia depends on the conditions and exact type of dementia. However, there are many treatments for Alzheimer's and dementia that overlap. 

Treatment For Alzheimer's Disease

There is no cure available for Alzheimer's. However, various treatments can help with managing the symptoms of the disease. 

  • Antipsychotic medications for behavioral changes
  • Medications for sleep changes
  • Medications like cholinesterase inhibitors donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and memantine (Namenda) for memory loss
  • Medications for depression 

Treatment For Dementia

 Most of the time, treating the condition that is causing dementia may improve the patient's health. Conditions that cause dementia that responds to treatments include:

  • Metabolic disorders
  • Tumors
  • Drugs
  • Hypoglycemia

The treatments for dementia heavily depend on the cause. It is not a reversible condition. However, there are various types of dementia that are treatable. It can be managed by using the correct medications. 

Dementia caused by Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson's disease can be treated by using cholinesterase inhibitors, which are also used for Alzheimer's treatment. Treatment for vascular dementia focuses on stopping the brain's blood vessels from getting damaged any further and preventing strokes. 

People who have to live with dementia can also get help from people they are living with or caregivers. Various assisted living facilities and nursing homes can also help look after dementia patients. People living with dementia often need extra care as it can become disabling after a certain age. 

Alzheimer's and Dementia Treatments and New Developments

Aiming At Plaques 

New Alzheimer's treatments in development aim to target microscopic clumps of the protein beta-amyloid (plaques). The plaques are a defining sign of Alzheimer's disease. 

The use of drugs known as monoclonal antibodies is prevalent in stopping beta-amyloid from forming into plaques. They can also be used to remove the plaques that have already formed. The monoclonal antibodies imitate our body's natural antibodies that form to fight against foreign invaders. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved aducanumab in June of 2021, which has faced a large amount of controversy. It is the first drug approved in the U.S. that targets and eliminates plaques formed in the brain.

Other monoclonal antibodies like lecanemab and donanemab are also in trial phases, and they are being developed to be used as treatments for Alzheimer's. The FDA wants to ensure that these drugs have guaranteed benefits for patients living with Alzheimer's disease. 

Human trials for the drug saracatinib are also underway. This drug was initially developed to treat cancer patients. However, trials for saracatinib performed on mice showed that it fixed synapses that had been broken, and some memory loss was reversed. 

Research has shown that beta-amyloids form from a parent protein when different enzymes perform two steps. The development of production blockers for the treatment of Alzheimer's aims to reduce the number of beta-amyloids formed in our brains. 

Drugs like beta- and gamma-secretase inhibitors are being experimented on to block the activity of the enzymes that perform the two steps that create beta-amyloids. Recent research showed that beta-secretase inhibitors do not slow down cognitive decline and causing various side effects for people with Alzheimer's disease.  

Reducing Inflammation

There is low-level, chronic inflammation of brain cells caused by Alzheimer's disease. Studies being conducted are looking for ways the inflammation caused during Alzheimer's can be treated. The drug currently in research called Leukine is said to stimulate the immune system of people with Alzheimer's to fight against harmful proteins and protect the brain. 

Researchers studied another drug to determine whether it can lessen the production of beta-amyloid and the inflammation of brain cells. Actos, a drug used for diabetes, was used for this research. The research and studies conducted showed that Actos was not effective in bringing down the inflammation or stopping beta-amyloid production in the brain. 

Stop Tau from Tangling 

A common brain abnormality in Alzheimer's is microscopic fibers called tangles. These tangles form when tau, a protein, twists. It results in the collapse of one of the most vital brain cell transport systems. 

Research for future Alzheimer's treatments is considering finding ways to prevent tau from twisting and forming tangles. Tau vaccines and tau aggregation inhibitors are in clinical trials, and researchers are working to develop a treatment. 

The Connection Between the Head and Heart

There is growing evidence that the health of our brain is related to the health of our heart and blood vessels. Conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and more illnesses that damage the heart and arteries also increase the risk of getting Dementia. 

Researchers are investigating whether or not medications that help heart conditions like high blood pressure can also treat Alzheimer's and reduce the risk of dementia. More studies are working toward finding a connection between vascular diseases and dementia at a molecular level and developing new drugs for both conditions. 

Lifestyle choices that can help with heart diseases can also be beneficial for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Following a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly and maintaining healthy eating habits can help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Hormones

Recent studies have shown that people taking estrogen-based hormone therapy for a year during early menopause or perimenopause had a delayed onset of Alzheimer's, and their thinking and memory were protected even if they were at risk of having Alzheimer's disease. 

However, further research has been conflicting in this regard. Some studies have indicated that estrogen has no benefit for people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. There is a need for further research to determine whether there is a connection between Alzheimer's and estrogen. The studies conducted up to this point have not provided us with any conclusive results. 

Research on Insulin Resistance

Studies are being conducted to find out the effects insulin has on the brain and the functions of brain cells. Researchers are also trying to determine insulin changes in the brain that can be related to Alzheimer's disease. 

There was a trial held for testing a nasal spray containing insulin. The trial showed that the drug does not help slow down the progression of Alzheimer's and does not have any significant effect. 

Final Takeaway

Alzheimer's patients and people living with dementia are always waiting for new developments in the treatments. The process of coming up with new medications and treatments can be long, and the wait can become painful. 

Countless studies are being conducted to find ways to treat conditions that cause dementia and the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer's, there can still be advanced treatments that can delay the onset and protect the brain against cognitive decline.  

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