The Future Treatment of Alzheimer’s

 In Alzheimer's Care, Alzheimer's Prevention Tips, Alzheimer's Research, Brain Health, Stress Management

Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation (ARPF) Scientific Advisory Council member Helen Lavretsky, MD was recently interviewed about what the future of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) treatment looks like. With a new drug on the market, people want to know, is this the cure we’ve been looking for? 

As ARPF has been saying for decades, no magic bullet drug exists. Dr. Lavretsky explained why ongoing drug trials have yet to provide hope for a cure. “I’m afraid to say none of the drugs look promising. None are offering a cure; it’s more of an effect of delayed prognosis. How much delay? Is it relevant to families? Probably, yes. If you can delay AD that’s a substantial improvement. We’re more sure of what these drugs do in the tissue of the brain. We’re not sure of the cognitive, behavior, or overall effect.”

Dr. Lavretsky added that removing amyloid from the brain could create long term effects such as brain swelling, microbleeds, headaches, etc. Beyond the fact that some healthcare systems are not going to provide the controversial drug, nor will some insurances cover such an expensive perscription, there just isn’t enough data to validate its efficacy. 

The good news is that Dr. Lavretsky has been on the cutting edge of several studies that offer hope and proven prevention techniques. One study, called the Pink BrainTM Project, is researching the impact of a yoga program in women at high risk for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Lavretsky added, “There’s lots of ongoing trials and completed trials that firmly demonstrate that improved physical activity, social engagement, mental stimulation, stress management, especially management of vascular health: blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, sleep apnea, etc. can improve and prevent cognitive decline. This is really a substantial help for physicians in terms of how we approach our patients. So in my clinic, I review lifestyle practices of my patients: daily activities, mental stimulation, diet, and supplements.”

Dr. Lavretsky says that loneliness, in the days of Covid, is a global pandemic in itself that tremendously affects older adults with cognitive impairments. What can you do to help alleviate the negative impact of loneliness? Make sure your loved ones have some sort of social contact support from families. This can be as simple as a daily phone call to check in. Going on nature walks is an amazing way to connect with someone and get all the benefits of being outdoors in fresh air. For more information on the benefits of physical and mental exercise, socialization and community, click here.

The silver lining in the clinical treatment of AD is that pharmaceuticals is not our only option. Indeed, we have many proven ways of preventing cognitive decline all based on lifestyle choices, most notably, ARPF’s 4 Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention. Dr. Lavretsky’s advice is to utilize all prevention methods: eating well, exercising, reducing stress, socializing, etc., because they all improve quality of life. Whereas drugs may not improve quality of life nor do many people want to take drugs. “Unless you add content to your therapy, just prescribing drugs does not make sense. You want to add life to years, not just years to life.” Starting a healthy lifestyle as early as possible keeps brain function at its highest level. Doing so gives your overall wellness a huge boost, and you’ll never have to consider paying $56,000 for a drug that may or may not help your cognition. 

Helen Lavretsky, MD photo courtesy of UCLA Health

Dr. Helen Lavretsky is a professor in residence in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California Los Angeles for work on geriatric depression and integrated mental health using mind-body interventions. She has received national attention and has won numerous grants supporting that work. Dr. Lavretsky is a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. She is also on the board of Psychiatric Times.


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