While Alzheimer’s disease (AD) currently has no known cure, the results of recent research are raising hopes that someday it might be possible to delay the onset of AD, slow its progress, or even prevent it altogether. Delaying by even 5 years the time when AD symptoms begin could greatly reduce the number of people who have this devastating disease.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; other Government agencies; and private-sector groups support research that takes many different approaches to studying how to prevent or delay the disease.
We do not yet fully understand what causes AD, but we believe it develops because of a complex series of events that take place in the brain over a long period of time. Many studies are exploring the factors involved in the cause and development of AD including the following:
Slow and careful detective work by scientists has paid off in discoveries of genetic links to the two main types of AD. One type is the rare, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It usually affects people aged 30 to 60. Some cases of early-onset disease are inherited and are called familial AD (FAD). The other is late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It is by far the more common form and occurs in those 60 and older.
Beta-Amyloid: fragments of this protein stick together and then gradually form into plaques
Tau: the chief component of neurofibrillary tangles
Meanwhile other scientists are studying health, lifestyle, and environmental factors-such as exercise and diet or the control of chronic diseases like diabetes-that may play a role in preventing or slowing AD or cognitive decline. Recent research suggests that maintaining good overall health habits may help lower our chances of developing several serious diseases, including brain diseases such as AD. This area is of particular interest because it appears that there may be things that individuals can do themselves to hold off AD.
Several of these potential factors have been identified in animal studies and in epidemiologic studies (studies that compare the lifestyles, behaviors, and characteristics of groups of people). At present, these factors are only associated with changes in AD risk. Further research, especially clinical trials, will be needed to determine cause-and-effect-whether these factors really do help prevent cognitive decline or AD directly.
Rapid advances in our knowledge about Alzheimer’s have led to the development of many promising new drugs and treatment strategies. However, before these new strategies can be used in clinical practice, they must be shown to work in people. This means that clinical trials-and volunteer participants-are an essential part of Alzheimer’s disease research. Advances in prevention and treatment are possible thanks to volunteers who participate in clinical trials.
Clinical trials are the primary way that researchers find out if a promising treatment is safe. Clinical trials tell researchers which treatments are the most effective and for which people they may work best. Trials can take place in various settings, such as private research facilities, teaching hospitals, specialized AD research centers, and doctors’ offices. FDA approval is necessary before scientists can begin a clinical trial.
Participating in a clinical trial is a big step for anyone, including people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. That is why physicians and clinical trials staff spend time talking with participants about what it is like to be in a trial and the pros and cons of participating.
Contact Us for more information on local clinical trials.
To learn more about clinical trials, visit the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center’s Clinical Trials Database website. Also, visit the clinical trials websites of the National Institutes of Health.
More and more, scientists are turning their attention to how they can treat, slow, or perhaps prevent Alzheimer’s at various points during the lengthy disease progression-beginning even before symptoms are evident.
It has become clear that there probably is no single “magic bullet” that will, by itself, prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
For people who already have AD, the most immediate need is for treatments to control cognitive loss as well as problem behaviors, such as aggression, agitation, wandering, depression, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, and delusions.
Scientists also are investigating treatments that combine medications with lifestyle strategies to lessen the risk of developing cognitive decline or AD.
Eventually, scientists hope to develop treatments that attack the earliest manifestations and underlying causes of AD, thereby slowing, delaying, or preventing the disease from progressing and damaging cognitive function and quality of life.
Several prescription drugs are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
More details about treatments and medications here.
Ongoing research is helping us learn more about ways to maintain a healthy brain and about the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia. AD develops over many years and appears to be affected by a number of factors that may increase or decrease a person’s chances of developing the disease. While age and family history are risk factors, other things such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle are believed to have an influence as well. We can’t control some of these risk factors, but we can control others.
Ways to maintain brain health
• Manage health risks
• Eat healthy
• Get regular exercise
• Engage your brain
• Stay socially connected
Find more about these methods of Active Alzheimer’s Prevention here.