Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease (AD), a progressive neurological disease that is ultimately fatal.
However, there have been a number of promising developments in treatment. One of the latest comes from a very small study carried out jointly by the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the UCLA Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Disease Research.
What's remarkable is the results from quantitative MRI and follow-up testing reveal improvements in 10 patients with the early stage of the disease. The findings are written up in the journal Aging.
Reversing memory loss
The researchers say their work is the first time it has been objectively shown that memory loss can be reversed. What's more, they say the improvement was maintained using a strict program of dietary changes, brain stimulation, physical exercise, sleep optimization, and drug treatments.
“All of these patients had either well-defined mild cognitive impairment (MCI), subjective cognitive impairment (SCI) or had been diagnosed with AD before beginning the program,” said author Dr. Dale Bredesen.
One of the most hopeful results was patients in the study who had to leave their jobs because of their memory loss problems were able to return to work. Those still working but struggling because of their condition saw an improvement in on-the-job performance.
“Follow up testing showed some of the patients going from abnormal to normal,” Bredesen said.
Can't dismiss the results
While it is true that the study sample is extremely small, Bredesen says the results were truly dramatic and cannot be dismissed.
For example, a 66-year old professional entered the study with hippocampal volume, the part of the brain closely associated with memory, only in the 17th percentile for his age. After 10 months undergoing the therapy, follow-up testing showed his hippocampal volume increased to the 75th percentile.
In another instance, researchers say a 69-year old entrepreneur was in the process of shutting down his business when he went on the protocol. After six months, he regained lost mathematical abilities.
What may be particularly noteworthy is nine of the 10 patents carried at least one copy of the APOE4 allele gene, meaning they are at higher risk of developing AD. Bredesen said people should be tested for the gene so they can begin the protocol at an earlier stage, as a preventive measure.
Is this the long-sought magic bullet to finally dispatch Alzheimer's disease once and for all? Bredesen isn't ready to say that.
“The magnitude of improvement in these ten patients is unprecedented, providing additional objective evidence that this programmatic approach to cognitive decline is highly effective,” Bredesen said.
But the fact remains it was a small study and the results need to be replicated on a larger scale, he says. Plans for larger studies are underway.