As 2016 comes to a close, it’s important to review the progress we’ve made in the past year. New research is unfolding each and every day, and as new technology develops, research advances. Being one of the greatest mysteries of our time, approximately 5.4 million Americans now live with dementia.
Being the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, a diagnosis is life changing — not only for the individual patient, but also for their family. Without a cure in near sight, patients are looking for answers — are we making any progress? If so, what have we discovered?
A Year In Review — Dementia Developments In 2016
For those who are currently living with dementia, or are caring for a loved one suffering from this degenerative condition, you may be wondering, how close are we to a cure? In the past year, have we discovered anything significant? Although frustrating, research is always uncovering new pieces of information that, in turn, directly impact the dementia community.
“Rates of Alzheimer’s May Be Declining”
In November 2016, a study was published which highlighted recent rates of Alzheimer’s disease. What they found, was that rates of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia appear to have fallen since the year 2000. In fact, while studying Americans aged 65 and older, rates dropped from 11.6 percent to 8.8 percent in 2012.
Presented in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers believe this may be based on better education, as well as advanced treatment for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In 2000, the average amount of education was 11.8 years, in comparison to 12.7 years in 2012.
It is believed that both early life and lifelong education, supports cognitive reserve — resulting in reduced neuropathological damage. Although exciting, it’s important to not that a fall in dementia rates does not mean that less people are living with this condition. There’s a key difference between the prevalence rate and the prevalence number.
Meaning, although the rate of dementia is declining in terms of the total population, the prevalence number — or the number of people living with the disease will continue to rise. Between now and 2050, more than 28 million baby boomers will develop this disease, so treating other conditions associated with aging may help.
For now, this is a step in the right direction, as each and every clue adds value to the greater picture. Researchers are now interested in the full set of social, medical, and behavioral factors that may have contributed to declining rates. New trends will continue to be monitored in order to better understand the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and possible contributing factors.
“Long-term Benadryl Use Linked to Dementia”
A number of studies have been conducted this year regarding the effects of medication on dementia risk, including heartburn and anticholinergic drugs. Within one report, published in JAMA Internal Science, it was found that long-term use of anticholinergic medications, such as Benadryl, increased one’s risk of dementia.
Blocking the action of acetylcholine — a neurotransmitter that is involved in both memory and learning, it appears that these drugs may have lasting effects. While studying 3,500 men and women aged 65 and older, tracking their health for an average of seven years, it was found that one’s risk was 54 percent higher when taking an anticholinergic for three or more years.
Anticholinergic drugs can be either prescription or over-the-counter medications, including antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, drugs to reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s, and even medications that are meant to control an overactive bladder. Meaning, these drugs are not intended to be taken long-term — and since natural levels of acetylcholine diminish with age, these drugs create a ‘double whammy’ effect.
Earlier in the year, researchers also found that proton pump inhibitors (PPI), including drugs to treat GERD, heartburn, and ulcers, may cause reduced cognition. Published in JAMA Neurology, this study found that chronic PPIs users experienced a 44 percent increased risk of dementia, in comparison to those who did not take any medication.
Interestingly, men were at a slightly higher risk. It’s also important to not that occasional users exhibited a much lower risk than long-term users. The take home here is to continually reevaluate the drugs you or a loved one are taking. If the drug is not helping or is no longer needed, please speak with your doctor about possible alternatives with fewer side effects.
“Hitting the Sauna May Reduce Your Risk of Dementia”
An impressive study was published late 2016, documenting the positive health benefits of frequent sauna use. Over the course of two decades, researchers followed 2,315 healthy men aged 42-60 years. After assessing sauna bathing habits, the participants were divided into three groups — those who took a 15-minute sauna 4-7 times weekly; those using the sauna 2-3 times weekly; and those who used the sauna once a week.
Published in Age and Ageing, this study found a dose-response between the frequency of one’s sauna habits and dementia risk. More specifically, in comparison to those who taking a sauna just once a week, those who used a sauna 4-7 times weekly experienced a 66 percent lower risk of dementia in any form, as well as a 65 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
Past research has also found that when taking a dry-heat sauna 4-7 times weekly, individuals experience lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke. Although the researchers are not exactly sure why this occurs, it’s well established that cardiovascular health affects the brain.
While experiencing full relaxation in a sauna, individuals reduce stress and benefit their heart. The heat itself may also offer key benefits which are similar to those experienced after exercise. As blood flow increases, areas of the brain responsible for memory and cognitive processing are rewarded with nutrient and oxygen-rich blood.
“Antibody Significantly Reduces Amyloid Plaques In Alzheimer’s Patient”
Some described this study as “the best Alzheimer’s related news in 25 years” — and based on the results, it looks like we’re getting closer to a potential treatment. While studying 165 patients, it was found that the drub aducanumab, can clear the sticky plaques from the brain, which are what cause neurological decline.
For those with Alzheimer’s, this could be a game changer. Once one develops dementia, they already exhibit a large amount of amyloid plaques — preventing cell communication, resulting in irreversible memory loss and decline. When taking this drug, these plaques are cleared and after six months of treatment, patients stopped deteriorating in comparison to those taking a placebo.
If this drug is shown to be effective in larger trials, the first drug to prevent dementia may be available in a few short years. Despite the fact that more than 400 drug trials have taken place in the past, all which have not been able to combat this disease, these latest developments are encouraging.
Not only has this recent study discovered a potential treatment, but has also found that the build-up of amyloid plaque is likely to blame — allowing researchers to re-gain focus. After testing various human immune cells with amyloid, they finally found one that broke up plaques. After cloning this antibody in large numbers, this new therapy was given intravenously just once a month.
Published in Nature, the researchers tested various levels of this new possible drug over the course of a year — all while administering a placebo in one group. As the dose increased, it was found that more amyloid was removed and at the highest dose, there was virtually no amyloid left.
At this time, this treatment would likely be most effective for those who are within the earliest stages, or for those who have not yet begun to show problematic symptoms. Since several universities are working on possible blood tests to determine this disease up to a decade before the first symptom appears, we could likely have a break through in the near future.
http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2091745 http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/article-abstract/2487379 http://ageing.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/12/07/ageing.afw212.abstract http://www.nature.com/articles/nature19323.epdf