Just to be right up front about it, there presently are no cures for Alzheimer’s Disease. There is some evidence to encourage taking vitamin D to help stave off some forms of dementia, but it is not the rigorous sort of clinical evidence that offers much more than an elusive promise presently. Some tout the virtues of gingko biloba as a memory booster, but there is no evidence that it works on dementia. At this writing, FDA has approved five drugs to treat – not cure – Alzheimer’s:
- Aricept is able to claim that it can slow the cognitive progression of Alzheimer’s and modestly improve confusion, memory and awareness.
- Exelon claims to address the memory loss of both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Namenda claims to treat the moderate to severe confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, but is to be used in combination with one of the other agents.
- Namzaric combines an extended release form of Namenda as well as Aricept in one pill to address the symptoms each addresses individually.
- Razadyne claims to improve the ability to think and even remember by increasing brain levels of acetylcholine, a beneficial enzyme.
There is, however, some good news for caregivers at the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian Hospital. For about three years now they have been tracking individuals who have not started with any cognitive or memory issues. That may sound odd if they are looking to identify what works in treating a memory condition like Alzheimer’s but it really strikes to the heart of the issue. No one begins with Alzheimer’s Disease. It only emerges slowly from very subtle changes into increasingly dramatic deficits that eventually take away everything but the present.
The Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic sees patients who initially are not at all symptomatic, and the interview them, record a rigorous family and medical history and get very granular with the information. They are looking for what may become leading indicators or risk factors and markers, but they also are looking for something more. They are looking for ways to begin to categorize all these patients according to risk factors that can be quantified. They also use a range of computer-assisted and traditional pencil and paper cognitive tests to grade the patients. From all of these they tailor a personal regimen using what nutritional, behavioral and physical programs are thought to offer some benefit. They then continue to chart everyone’s progress, and they will continue with this over the long run.
They are looking for changes in key biomarkers, beta amyloid levels in the brain and blood glucose and glucose metabolic levels in the brain. What they identify as departures from the norm or from what is calibrated as healthy, they will carefully examine to see what may have precipitated these turns. And what has yielded positive outcomes as well. It is the goal of this program to evolve new, personalized health plans that can help future patients toward even better outcomes. Consider it to be a disease prevention program that succeeds by closing off all the access points through which the disease invades healthy bodies. Avoid illness through better health!
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Professional and a 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. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.