A tiny Alzheimer's study with huge results

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

If you keep up with science news, or even just news in general, you're probably used to the deluge of dementia and Alzheimer's-related studies released each week.

In the past month alone, McKnight's has covered research that has found rosacea patients to be at a higher risk for dementia, pegged the body's response to infection as a culprit behind the disease, and offered video chatting as a way to ease symptoms in nursing home residents.

And more such findings are sure to come since the federal government has recently pledged to close to $1.4 billion to Alzheimer's research. Advocates for the Alzheimer's patients have upped the stakes even higher, aiming to find a “cure or meaningful treatment” for the disease by 2025.

If that date seems like it's ambitiously close, take heart — there's another recently released Alzheimer's study that may serve as a turning point in this seemingly never-ending battle.

Researchers with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the University of California Los Angeles recently conducted a clinical trial that showed memory loss and cognitive decline in patients with early Alzheimer's can actually be reversed.

Sure, the trial was small — just 10 patients — but the implications are huge. It's reported to be the first study of its kind to show that not only can memories be regained, but that cognitive improvement can actually be sustained over time.

The patients in the study received a personalized treatment known as metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration, or MEND, which incorporates 36 different factors such as diet, sleeping habits, medications and brain therapy into the patients' everyday routines.

The results? Subjects who were forced to leave their jobs due to their memory loss were able to return, and those whose work performance was suffering improved.

One of the more striking anecdotes from the research team involved a 69-year-old man who had suffered from memory loss for 11 years, and was in the midst of closing his business for good. After just six months on MEND, his ability to rapidly add numbers returned, he was able to remember his schedule better and recognize co-workers' faces again. He showed even more improvement after 22 months in the program, and went from shutting down his business to expanding it.

All but one of the patients in the trial were genetically at risk for Alzheimer's, which may also spur people to undergo testing so they can start treatments like MEND as soon as possible, researchers noted.

“The magnitude of improvement in these 10 patients is unprecedented, providing additional objective evidence that this programmatic approach to cognitive decline is highly effective," said study author Dale Bredesen, M.D., whose work with MEND is available online in Aging.

Bredesen added that while more research needs to be done on the program (plans for a large version of the trial are already underway), the treatment's success has “far-reaching implications.”

So as you continue your news surfing, as we do here at McKnight's, keep an eye out for further research on MEND. The year 2025 may not be that far off, but if this latest breakthrough is any indication, a real, meaningful treatment for Alzheimer's may not be either.

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.