22 March 2019

5 Recent developments in dementia research

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Can early dementia be reversed? Does the food we eat make a difference? Can quizzes and brain tests prevent the onset of the condition? These are just a few of the once-mysteries experts have attempted to solve regarding dementia. 

‘Dementia’ is an umbrella term which refers to a group of symptoms associated with the gradual decline of the brain and its abilities. Symptoms include problems with memory loss, language and thinking speed.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer'’s disease. Vascular dementia is the next most common, followed by dementia with Lewy bodies.

According to Alzheimer’s Society, there are around 850,000 people affected by dementia in the UK. Some 225,000 people will develop dementia this year, which equates to one person every three minutes.

Let's explore some groundbreaking developments regarding dementia medicine...

1.) One hour of exercise a week 'can halve dementia risk

A study published in the Lancet Neurology - the first to quantify the combined impact of lifestyle factors influencing dementia - identifies exercise as the most significant protection against the condition. 

Those who did not achieve three 20-minute bursts of vigorous exercise per week, such as jogging or football, or five 30-minute sessions of moderate activity, such as walking were 82per cent more likely to go on to develop dementia. 

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’'s Society said:

'"This valuable study adds to a growing body of evidence strongly suggesting that simple lifestyle changes can help lower our risk of developing dementia. 

“What is good for your heart is good for your head and there are simple things you can start doing now to reduce your risk of developing dementia. Regular exercise is a good place to start as well as avoiding smoking and eating a Mediterranean diet.”

2.) The FDA is considering the first-ever machine to treat dementia 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is officially considering the use of the first-ever medical device to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The machine, called the NeuroAD, is technically already approved for medical use in Israel, Europe and Asia, according to IEEE Spectrum. The device manufacturer has been seeking FDA approval since at least early 2016.

The machine uses a technique called “transcranial magnetic stimulation,” a treatment that is more commonly used as a treatment for depression. While the patient is strapped into the device, they do cognitive training exercises consisting of basic memory tests related to language and comprehension, in order to strengthen neural connections in the brain.

“Meaningful Improvement”

Clinical trials of the device show “meaningful improvement” to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, according to Neuronix CEO Eyal Baror.

“For a tough disease like Alzheimer’s, this is a really important tool,” Baror told IEEE Spectrum. “We’re not attempting to cure Alzheimer’s, unfortunately, but we’re attempting to modify the course of the disease.”

3.) Dementia rates falling thanks to smoking reductions, according to Public Health report 

 

The risk of developing dementia is falling, thanks to lifestyle improvements such as reductions in smoking, new research has found.

Professor Albert Hofman, who led the research at the Harvard School of Public Health, said:

“We know that recent decades have seen a radical decline in smoking rates for men.

"While many people may have been persuaded to stop smoking due to an increased risk of cancer or heart disease, it is also a key risk factor for dementia.

“With other dementia risk factors such as obesity and diabetes on the rise, this apparent decline in dementia rates may not continue for long."

A recent poll conducted by the Alzheimer’s Research UK, at whose conference the new results were presented, found just a third of people think it is possible to reduce their risk of developing dementia while 77 per cent of people think it’s possible to reduce their risk of heart disease.

4.) Potential for new dementia treatment following research trial

New research shows a link between reducing amyloid in the brain and slowing cognitive decline.

Research presented at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) has found evidence in support of the 'amyloid hypothesis'.

The drug treatment BAN2401 was found to reduce amyloid in the brain, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Researchers found that after 18 months, the highest dose of the drug:

• Significantly reduced amyloid in the brain of 81% of patients

• Slowed cognitive decline by 30%

Only the top dose showed this effect, lower doses of the drug did not show this effect.

5.) 'Holy Herb' found in California may help treat Alzheimer's

Yerba santa, a plant with a long history of medicinal use in its native California, contains an active compound that could treat people with Alzheimer's disease one day.

Lab manager Professor Dave Schubert and his team identified a molecule in the shrub called sterubin, which they discovered is its most active component. 

The researchers tested sterubin and other plant extracts for their effects on nerve cells in mice.

They found sterubin had a strong anti-inflammatory impact on brain cells known as microglia, which are vital to the development of Alzheimer's disease.

Newcross Heathcare hosts an Excellence in dementia course, which aims to improve the learner's understanding of dementia and its effects on the service user and how these may be managed to support the individual and their carers. The learner will gain a greater understanding of strategies that may assist the individual and their carers in the management of the disease and its effects.

 

Sources:

NHS Online

The Daily Mail

The Telegraph

Alzheimer's Society