One reason why Alzheimer’s is so insidious is that it has no cure nor practical effective treatment. Every patient eventually succumbs to the disease. Progress toward learning more about the nuts and bolts of the disease has been slow, even as more Americans are diagnosed with the condition.
However, Swedish researchers recently announced a minor breakthrough into the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and the findings are offering hope that doctors can diagnose the disease earlier and possibly offer an effective treatment.
The researchers used a high-powered X-ray machine to examine the brains of mice genetically engineered to develop early Alzheimer’s. This provided a visual of the proteins that create the plaque that kills healthy neurons within the brain during the early stages of the disease. Researchers found that these proteins are structured differently than originally assumed and in fact resemble an abnormal protein that causes a rare nervous system disorder. This is important because a drug that can counter the latter type of proteins is already available.
Gunnar Gouras, the author of the study, told The Huffington Post that the aforementioned drug isn’t guaranteed to help people with Alzheimer’s, but he does suggest a way to develop other drugs that could. He also told HuffPost that his team’s research might have implications for diagnosing Alzheimer’s at earlier stages.
These findings are welcome news in a field of research desperately trying to get ahead of the Alzheimer’s problem worldwide. And the problem is growing, faster than scientists and doctors can keep up.
The Stark Numbers
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.5 million Americans have the disease in 2017. More distressingly, that number is expected to rise to 16 million by 2050. Alzheimer’s is already the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., jumping 89 percent since 2000. Also, the disease will cost the nation $259 billion this year and potentially more than $1 trillion by mid-century. These statistics highlight the need for more research and a greater understanding of why Alzheimer’s is such a serious medical, societal, and economic concern.
Recognizing the early signs of Alzheimer’s is critical to patients receiving the appropriate medical attention and families planning for their loved one’s safe health and future. Some of these warning signs include:
- Drastic personality changes
- Difficulty performing activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing, grooming, bathing, and eating
- Deterioration of speech and language skills
- Unexpected aggression, wandering, or impulsiveness—any behavior outside the norm
- A disruptive degree of memory loss
Alzheimer’s and other dementias do not develop suddenly; you won’t see all these early warning signs all at once. Therefore, knowing the symptoms is crucial to being better able to recognize a gradual onset over time.
Maintaining a Healthy Brain
Although the causes of Alzheimer’s are still being researched, the following fact has been confirmed: People who continually challenge their minds can slow the progression of the disease and lessen its symptoms. Keeping your brain sharp is enriching for seniors with or without dementia; some fun ways to engage the mind include:
- Crosswords and other puzzles
- Card games, especially with friends
- Listening to music
- Arts and crafts
That last bullet is especially important because regular exercise alongside a healthy diet and good sleeping habits reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s and other dementias affect millions of Americans and their families, and unfortunately, treatments are lagging behind other serious diseases and conditions. Although the condition can’t be stopped, its effects can be lessened and delayed. Besides the healthy mind and body tips in the previous section, socialization is crucial as well. In fact, seniors with high levels of social involvement enjoy a better quality of life, and social involvement has been proven to help prevent cognitive decline. Avoiding stress is also important, which is why a comfortable, safe environment and established routines help dementia sufferers.
The ultimate goal underscoring the future of Alzheimer’s disease is finding effective treatments and a cure. Whether it has touched someone in your family or not, think about donating to fund research. Hopefully, a day will arrive when Alzheimer’s will be seen as a disease of the past, rather than one families continue to struggle with.