New Information On an Old Nemesis, Alzheimer’s Disease
There have been many scientific news releases regarding Alzheimer’s disease. As readers of this column know, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that slowly affects the memory. Ultimately, in its most advanced stage, dementia diminishes a patient’s recent and long-term memory. Alzheimer’s disease devastates the lives of more than 5 million Americans, typically manifesting itself in people older than 60 years.
Beginning in the mid 1980's, studies reported that approximately half of Alzheimer’s disease patients have a gene know as APOE4. Now, studies also reveal a closely related gene called TOMM40. This newly discovered gene accounts for another 35 percent of people who have or will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Three factors are important to note. First, the presence of either of these genes does not guarantee a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Diet, environmental and other unknown factors may delay the onset of symptoms until a person advances to 90-years-old.
The second factor considers the importance of testing for the gene. Most physicians argue against testing because a preventive cure has not been discovered. They also argue that testing can unnecessarily increase anxiety, depression and other problems. However, a recent study has disproved this theory. When properly counseled about the presence of an Alzheimer’s gene, these people do not experience a measurable increase in stress and anxiety.
Finally, the third factor advocates for the discovery of additional genes associated with Alzheimer's disease with the hope that new therapies will be developed for prevention and treatment. During the past 20 years, however, prevention and treatment have not made significant advances.
As mentioned above, a definitive treatment or preventive drug for Alzheimer’s disease has not been developed. However, recent news offers encouragement. A Russian compound used as an antihistamine, called dimebolin, has been shown to reduce the amount of cognitive impairment caused by Alzheimer’s disease. In laboratories, amyloid beta has produced surprising results in mice. This drug awaits testing in the United States for use in Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Finally, a large new study in people older than 60 shows that taking commonly prescribed “statin” drugs to lower cholesterol has been found to reduce dementia onset by 50 percent. Other large studies have not found this result. A large prospective study is needed to provide more detail. At any rate, this new information offers encouragement to everyone interested in healthy aging.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease
According to the Alzheimer's Association, the following are the most common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- memory loss that affects job skills
- difficulty performing familiar tasks
- problems with language
- disorientation to time and place
- poor or decreased judgment
- problems with abstract thinking
- misplacing things
- changes in mood or behavior
- changes in personality
- loss of initiative
The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.