|Alzheimer's disease is a form of brain disease found among older people. But several new studies provide new information about preventing and potentially curing Alzheimer's disease. |
In a healthy brain, signals travel through synapses, connections between the brain cells. But the brain of an Alzheimer's patient shows buildup of a substance called amyloid. The amyloid plaques clog up the brain and eventually kill the connections between cells. Some scientists believe this causes Alzheimer's and they are currently working on experimental medications to fight the disease.
William Thies is the scientific director of the Alzheimer's Association, a non-governmental organization. "Many scientists believe that if we can interrupt that accumulation of amyloid, we will, in fact, change the course of Alzheimer's disease, and that's ultimately what we're trying to test here."
Scientists estimate 4.5 million people in the United States suffer from the disease and the number will increase to 14 million by 2050.
Dr. Elizabeth Edgerly is an area director of the Alzheimer's Association. "The aging of our population is such that we are seeing more and more people with Alzheimer's and when the baby boomers hit their senior years, which is just now starting, we are going to see a dramatic increase by the number of people affected by Alzheimer's."
To cope with that growth of Alzheimer's disease, scientists are working on early detection devices. One of these devices is a PET, or position emission tomography. PET scans, which are still in the experimentation process, are given to healthy middle-aged patients to determine potential Alzheimer's warning signs.
Dr. Edgerly explains that, ”We may be able to see the changes in brains through brain scans and imaging decades before the person actually develops symptoms. Why that is particularly exciting is that it opens a window of opportunity for us to intervene even before the damage has taken place in the brain to the extent that symptoms appear."
The tests are 85 percent accurate in detecting which patients will get Alzheimer's disease or other memory illnesses. But scientists caution that more testing has to be done before PET detection scans can be widely available.
Other new studies suggest lifestyle choices may impact Alzheimer's. Drinking fruit or vegetable juice three or more times a week and exercising regularly may lower the risk of developing the disease.