When will there be an Alzheimer’s cure?
It’s a question humans have been asking for the last century. And, it’s something we’ll continue to explore as more humans develop the disease in older age.
If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you’ve likely asked this question many times before. We’re still a ways away from finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But, recent Alzheimer’s research has cast some promising light on the horizon.
What are the latest developments in research? How can these new discoveries help you care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s?
Here’s what’s happening in Alzheimer’s disease research.
Exercise May Protect Against Alzheimer’s
The correlation between exercise and Alzheimer’s has long been the subject of speculation. As we all know, exercise does wonders for our mental and physical health. But, is exercise a proven method of preventing and combating Alzheimer’s?
Possibly! Studies suggest that active individuals are less likely to experience a mental decline.
There are many possible explanations for this. For one thing, cardiovascular activity increases blood flow to the brain. As this occurs, the production of brain-protecting chemicals increases.
But, recent research suggests exercise may also release a hormone that can improve memory directly.
Irisin, Alzheimer’s and Exercise
Irisin is a hormone naturally released in our circulatory system when we exercise. A study by Columbia University found a high presence of irisin in the hippocampus. They also discovered that Alzheimer’s patients have low irisin levels in the hippocampus.
What does this mean for Alzheimer’s disease research?
The hippocampus is an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Because exercise increases irisin production, it may boost low levels of the hormone. This may be able to support hippocampal health in those with Alzheimer’s — but that’s not all.
Irisin may be able to protect neuron synapses in the brain, as well. This is what may explain irisin’s ability to protect and improve memory.
The study found that swimming may promote irisin production most. While research is still ongoing, it’s important to exercise nonetheless. It’s also important to supplement exercise by eating foods that prevent Alzheimer’s.
The White Matter and Gray Matter Connection
The human brain may seem like a squishy or rubbery ball of pink folds. But within all those folds are gray matter and white matter working as a collective network.
The gray matter contains billions of neurons that transmit important signals. For example, when we experience an injury, we feel pain as a result of these signals.
Meanwhile, white matter contains dendrites and axons that aid communication between these neurons. If the white matter becomes compromised, we can experience delays in these signals.
As we age, the white matter and gray matter areas of the brain begin to deteriorate. But a recent study reveals that aging not only damages the white matter in our brains. This damage can eventually lead to gray matter damage in the hippocampus.
New Directions for Alzheimer’s Treatment
What do these findings have to do with Alzheimer’s research?
Again, the hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. When it’s damaged, we experience memory loss and struggle to form new memories. Our cognitive abilities also take a hit as the hippocampus begins to deteriorate.
The hippocampus is often the first area of the brain to suffer damage from Alzheimer’s. So, once cells in the white matter begin to deteriorate with age, this can speed the onset of Alzheimer’s.
It is now a question of whether Alzheimer’s treatment can target and reverse this kind of damage. If it can, though much more research is necessary, we may be moving closer to more effective treatment.
Alzheimer’s May Affect Women More Than Men
Two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women. In fact, a woman over the age of 60 is at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than breast cancer.
With these recent findings, Alzheimer’s research is now pivoting towards answering the question:
Why does Alzheimer’s affect women more than men?
Physiological differences between men and women may have something to do with this. In a new study, researchers honed in on something known as tau protein. Before we delve into the study, let’s explain what tau protein is exactly.
The Role of Tau Protein
Tau protein is a type of microtubule found in neurons. It’s heavily concentrated in the brain, and it has a strong correlation to Alzheimer’s.
Tau protein’s role involves clearing away toxins from neurons and stabilizing them. But when tau protein malfunctions, neurons are not able to stabilize themselves.
As a result, these neurons clog up with toxins and die. Neural pathways in the brain fill up with these dead cells. This all tends to pave the way for the progression of Alzheimer’s – but there’s more.
Tau protein malfunction even leads to the splitting of amyloid beta. This causes dead cell plaque to build in the brain, which speeds the progression of the disease.
Alzheimer’s treatment has begun to address the issue of tau protein malfunction. But new evidence suggests that physiology in the sexes may have something to do with tau protein. Here’s what a new study by Massachusetts General Hospital found.
Physiological Differences & Tau Protein
The study discovered that older women tend to have higher levels of tau protein than men. These women also exhibited higher levels of amyloid. They were even found to experience these buildups more rapidly than men.
It’s not yet known whether this has something to do with genetics or biology. Some researchers even believe that this may have to do with factors in a woman’s environment.
Brain stimulation can help slow down the progression of dementia. Women were once less likely to have an education than men. This may be why many women from these generations now have Alzheimer’s – but it is not yet proven.
Research will need to explore why female physiology leads to tau protein malfunction. But as of now, we have a better understanding as to why women develop the disease more than men.
Understanding the Latest Developments in Alzheimer’s Research
Twenty years ago, we didn’t understand Alzheimer’s disease to the extent that we do now. There may not yet be an Alzheimer’s cure. But, Alzheimer’s research has come a long way and newer developments are always on the horizon.
If your loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s, it is possible to slow the progression of the disease. It all begins with the right treatment and the finest level of care. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you.