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Alzheimer’s: A Cure at Hand?

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I have posted before that the currently approved therapies for treating patients with Alzheimer’s disease are not really very effective.  And they cannot change the ultimate course of the disease.  In news released just this last week, however, medical researchers have data on an FDA-approved medication that shows great promise in at least slowing…maybe stopping…the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.  Well, it is true, but there are a couple catches.

Alzheimer’s affects someone in the United States every 65 seconds, and the clock seems to be speeding up.  Currently, that translates into 5.8 million people, 5.6 million of those over the age of 65 or one in every ten 65+ year olds.  As more Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed the real challenge may be to find enough caregivers to help this new kind of “boom” generation.

When it comes to treating a progressive disease, scientists sometimes sound a bit like fly fishermen when they talk about working upstream to try to make a more fundamental difference in a disease progression.  It is like that with the medications that are not very effective with Alzheimer’s now.  To date, physicians have used therapies that control the symptoms of the disease or other behavioral issues.  They typically do this by reducing the amount of beta-amyloid in the brain, but this just is not enough.

Just this month researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham publishing findings from two mouse model (yes, mice) and human tissue that offer an alternative to blocking the ill effects of the disease progression.  Okay, that is as complicated as I will make this.  As one of the researchers explains, they have turned to a medication originally developed to treat depression, but ultimately came to market for treating schizophrenia.  The medication, idazoxan, was used to treat mice induced to develop Alzheimer’s.  The idazoxan appears to be helpful in slowing or even halting the transition from normal function to the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Other treatments currently only treat the disease once it takes root.  This also may explain why the medications aimed at reducing beta-amyloid are not effective, because halting this activity is simply too late in the process to do any real, sustainable good.  Upstream trumps downstream.

I will keep you posted of more developments on this particular treatment, because there are yet at least three clinical trials…and a lot of time…necessary before human results can be accurately determined and FDA-approval received.  Stay tuned.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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