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What's New in Alzheimer's Disease Treatment?

By Dr. Matt Narrett
June 30, 2021

Over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., causing more deaths among seniors than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Despite intensive research and study of Alzheimer's and dementia-related illnesses, a cure or effective medical treatments remain elusive. While we have learned that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease can be helpful in preventing or slowing the progression of the disease, we still have no Alzheimer's cure or treatment that consistently prevents its onset. Cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil and galantamine or rivastigmine have symptomatic benefits in some patients with dementia but do not delay the development of dementia in patients with mild cognitive impairment. Memantine has been shown to have some efficacy in moderate to severe dementia patients, but overall, the benefits have been modest.

Good news for the future of Alzheimer's treatment?

Recently, two drugs have shown enough promise in early studies to move into clinical trials. Donanemab is an antibody therapy that targets a modified form of beta-amyloid and thus may help reduce beta-amyloid plaques which are characteristically found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. In an early study, donanemab appeared to slow the decline of cognitive and functional abilities by 32% in participants who received the therapy compared to those who received a placebo. Imaging studies also showed that the drug seems to reduce amyloid plaques in the brain.

The second compound that shows promise, NE3107, is an experimental anti-inflammatory medication that also improves insulin sensitivity. We know that controlling inflammation and managing blood glucose is important to maintaining good cognitive function, and there are already drugs on the market that can do both. What sets NE3107 apart from the many anti-inflammatories and anti-diabetes drugs on the market, however, is that this oral tablet formulation is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and act directly on the brain.

An important note about both study drugs: They are being tested on people in the early to mid stages of the disease. As we know, treating any disease early in the process is the best way to prevent progression and keep people in their best health for longer. While these scientific developments are encouraging, it is still far too early to describe them as safe and effective.

Lifestyle tips to help prevent Alzheimer's Disease

While we remain hopeful and wait for an effective treatment for memory loss there is still much you can do. Studies have shown us that lifestyle practices may help prevent disease, especially regular exercise. Being active may have a direct effect on brain cells by increasing blood flow and oxygen. In addition, exercise is an important part of managing other conditions associated with dementia-related illness including high blood pressure and diabetes.

Researchers know from autopsy studies that up to 80% of people with Alzheimer's disease also have cardiovascular disease. That points the spotlight toward heart-healthy eating strategies including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; while limiting added sugars and saturated fats. Finally, we know that being social is important. One theory is that social activities may strengthen the connections between nerve cells in your brain.

Knowing there are potentially effective dementia-fighting drugs in the pipeline is certainly good news. The even better news is that you don’t have to wait to take action to start your dementia prevention program today.

Mind and body healthcare comes standard at Erickson Senior Living

Erickson Senior Living prides itself on providing the absolute best healthcare to all of its residents across each individual community. Our communities feature on-campus medical centers and top healthcare providers to meet all of your needs. In addition to physical wellness, our communities offer a Memory Care program to help prevent and manage symptoms of Alzheimer's, dementia, or other cognitive conditions.

Learn more about an Erickson Senior Living community near you