An Alzheimer’s Update: The Latest Research about the Disease

November 20, 2017

Alzheimer's Month bannerScientists have been busy discovering more about the brain and how to diagnose Alzheimer’s. Here’s a roundup of the latest findings published in 2017.

Earlier this spring, Congress announced it would increase funding for Alzheimer’s research in its new budget. Experts applauded the decision, stating it was necessary to remain on track for achieving goals set by the Alzheimer’s Association, including combating the disease by 2025.

November is National Alzheimer’s Month. So it’s a good time to look at how research has progressed in being able to diagnose Alzheimer’s. While we know it’s too soon to determine if they’ll reach the 2025 goal, some findings do look promising.

Alzheimer’s Update

A lot has been happening in the field of Alzheimer’s research. Here are the highlights of the past year.

  1. A New Way to Diagnose Alzheimer’s

For years, one of the basic challenges with Alzheimer’s has been that there is no specific test that confirms the disease. People are diagnosed based on a number of different observations and tests.

These include cognitive tests that evaluate factors like memory, problem-solving, and language skills. Lab tests can rule out other conditions, while brain scans can identify strokes and tumors that can sometimes cause dementia.

This fall, however, researchers announced that a new diagnosis method may have been discovered. It might provide an additional method of improving the accuracy of the diagnosis and helping doctors tailor treatments to individuals. A blood test that uses a diamond to identify certain chemicals in the blood, this new screening option leaves many scientists feeling hopeful.

  1. Brain Waves May Help Beat Alzheimer’s

Neuroscientists at MIT have discovered that brain waves may have a lot to do with controlling Alzheimer’s. In mice, it seems that a certain type of light therapy has beneficial effects on their condition.

People with Alzheimer’s have a buildup of harmful proteins in their brains. These are called beta-amyloid plaques. One key to combating the disease is clearing them out or, in earlier stages, preventing them from building up.

It turns out that gamma waves, a normal firing of neurons in the brain, may trigger a “cleaning out” of the beta-amyloid plaques. But if the gamma waves in someone’s brain aren’t operating properly, those plaques don’t get cleaned out. Scientists have long noted that people with brain disorders often have disrupted gamma waves.

By exposing mice with Alzheimer’s to a carefully calibrated set of flashing lights, the MIT group was able to restore gamma waves. That, in turn, led to a two-thirds reduction in beta-amyloid plaques.

Researchers warn, however, that people should not try their own light therapy at home. These are only preliminary findings and they have not been tested on humans. Caregivers should stick to known therapies for dementia, like the virtual caregiver application, SimpleC.

  1. Personality Changes as Signs of Dementia? No Evidence Yet

People often characterize personality changes as one of the warning signs of Alzheimer’s. Now, that’s being questioned. A comprehensive study at Florida State University examined personality and clinical assessments of more than 2,000 individuals.

Results of the 26-year study were published this past September in JAMA Psychiatry. Surprisingly, the researchers found no evidence to support the notion that personality changes are a harbinger of dementia.

Keeping You Informed

Here at Legacy Senior Living, it’s our job to stay on top of current research about Alzheimer’s. That’s how we keep our programs up-to-date. For example, our Purposeful Day therapy program is based on a compilation of years of Alzheimer’s research. We see every day how it helps improve quality of life for our memory care residents.

If you’d like to learn more about The Purposeful day or SimpleC, please call or visit us any time. We’d love to help answer your questions!