Given how prevalent the disease is, it is rare to find someone who is not at least indirectly affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Whether you have a parent, a neighbor, a friend, or even yourself, who has been diagnosed with the disease, you likely have a stake in finding a cure or at least finding a way to slow the disease’s progression. Despite the advancements in medicine and science over the last century, Alzheimer’s remains the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and is the only cause of death in the top ten that cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed. One expert, Dr. Dale Bredesen, a professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and a professor at the Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Disease Research at UCLA, thinks he might have found a way to reverse memory loss, a hallmark of the disease. If so, it will be a historical breakthrough in the war against Alzheimer’s – and old age!
In a study published in the journal Aging, Bredesen and colleagues showed how ten patients who were experiencing age-related memory decline showed brain scan improvements after following an approach called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND), a 36-point individualized regimen of diet, exercise, brain stimulation, sleep improvements, medication and vitamins and other specific protocols for five to 24 months. To put the results of the study into perspective, consider the results of one patient’s MRI which showed hippocampal volume at the 17th percentile for his age range prior to MEND. The hippocampus is a brain area critical for learning and memory that we know shrinks in Alzheimer’s patients. After 10 months of following the prescribed protocol, his hippocampal volume increased to the 75th percentile – an amazing achievement by any standards. Study participants who had been forced to quit working because of their declining memory were actually able to return to work after adopting MEND while participants who had been having a difficult time at work prior to the study noticed are marked improvement in their job performance. “Lives have been dramatically impacted,” Bredesen told CBS News. “I’m enthusiastic about that and continue to evolve the protocol.”
Of course, experts not involved in the study warn people to be cautious with regard to the results. James E. Galvin, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of clinical biomedical science at FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine and a professor in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, who was not involved in the study, agreed that personalized approaches such as the MEND protocol are the types of approaches needed for this disease going forward. “It’s important to be excited about this approach,” he told CBS News. However, Galvin cautioned, “I’m not sure about the method.” For example, MEND requires the use of supplements which are not well studied and do not require FDA approval; however, Bredesen believes that the only way to treat Alzheimer’s is to treat all of the underlying problems, which may require intervention with supplements. “Nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress reduction — these are all critical pieces of this,” he told CBS News. “It’s about optimizing biochemistry for your genetics, whatever it takes.”
One problem patients may have with MEND, even if it is eventually proven to be successful, is that it is difficult to follow. According to one press release, “None of the patients were able to stick to the entire protocol. The significant diet and lifestyle changes, and multiple pills required each day, were the two most common complaints.” To make the program easier to follow, they are connecting patients with health coaches. Researchers also concede that the MEND protocol is best suited to patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Further trials are scheduled to try and confirm (or refute) the protocols results and to address key questions about how long results can be maintained and how late in the course of cognitive decline reversal is possible.
If you have additional questions or concerns about an elderly loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and the legal issues that often accompany an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.