Alzheimer’s is such a horrifying, debilitating disease that it’s no wonder medical researchers are pulling out all the stops to find effective treatments. After all, it impacts about 5.8 million Americans (and their families) and is the source of 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. Medical marijuana? Electric shock therapy? What about garlic? A short list of some of the most recent trends in treatment for this progressive mental deterioration can look either inventive or a little bizarre, depending on your perspective. Here are five that are innovative or interesting, and sometimes both:
This potential treatment has one plus going for it: If the results on mice lead to similar results in the human population, the treatment (or preventive measures) would be affordable and something just about anyone could undertake on their own. The study that is getting so much attention comes out of the University of Louisville. The researchers there dosed older mice with an organic compound in garlic called allyl sulfide, which is known to detoxify and promote gut health. Basically, they were working from the finding that gut microbiota diversity plummets in the stomachs of the elderly right about the same time neurodegenerative diseases make their appearance and a human’s memory starts to get erratic.
“Our findings suggest that dietary administration of garlic containing allyl sulfide could help maintain healthy gut microorganisms and improve cognitive health in the elderly,” study co-author Dr. Jyotirmaya Behera told Newsweek.
Shining Lasers On Brain Cells
Lasers are another potential treatment trialed on mice, though this time the findings come from Dr. Adam Q. Bauer at Washington University in St. Louis. And these weren’t just any mice: Bauer’s team bred mice just for the experiment that had brains they could stimulate with laser pulses. They also expanded on previous research indicating that common brain disorders, including schizophrenia, may stem from problems with the brain cells that contain something called “parvalbumin.” That sounds awful, but is simply a protein that sits in almost 10 percent of your brain cells and helps the brain sync signals.
The promising part of the study is that the team was able to stimulate parvalbumin-stocked brain cells and ordinary brain cells in the mice using lasers. They found the parvalbumin cells reacted differently to the lasers than the other brain cells. Instead of providing stimulated neurons with more blood and oxygen, as would typically happen, the mice brain cells containing parvalbumin pretty much did the opposite. This may not seem like a huge discovery, but knowing how parvalbumin cells work could literally lead scientists to a better understanding of what goes wrong with those cells in the case of brain disorders.
Medical Marijuana May Have Merit
We know it’s now legal in a bunch of states and making millionaires out of early investors, but can medical marijuana help with brain disorders? The first thing to keep in mind here is that this finding is not geared towards curing Alzheimer’s (because right now it’s not curable), but providing relief for some of its most debilitating symptoms. These can include hallucinations or psychotic episodes that make suffering almost unbearable for patients and caregivers alike. Dr. Brent Forester, chief of geriatric psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts got good results with dronabinol, a pharmaceutical version of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes it psychoactive. He noted the drug kept dementia patients from getting agitated.
But don’t look for his study in any journals any time soon, because it wasn’t conducted in a formal fashion. “What’s interesting to me,” he told WGBH, “is that there’s such an interest in finding something new that a lot of our [dementia] patients are being treated with dronabinol without any of this data by their physicians, because they’re just desperate for something that’s probably safe and may actually help.”
Yes, it’s always been at least a little controversial, because electroconvulsive therapy involves shocking the brain until it has a brief seizure. But the administration of EMT has become far more sophisticated and now involves anesthesia. And the results are undeniable: While antidepressants are the first line of defense, electroconvulsive therapy works to combat major depression in patients whose bodies, for whatever reason, are resistant to various medications.
Now it looks like the same procedure could help treat the agitation that’s usually a symptom of Alzheimer’s and some other forms of dementia. And it would proceed along the same lines, with ECT being one of the possibilities doctors would try only after other interventions, like the non-pharmacological tactics and various medications, didn’t work. But there are a few small-scale studies that have shown ECT minimizing agitations, though maintenance treatments can be necessary. Key for some sufferers and their families is that ECT reduces the agitation without major side effects.
Diagnosis Via The Back Of The Eye
Eyes have long been considered windows to the soul, now they might provide an early indication of cognitive impairment that can be detected through noninvasive OCT angiography technology. Northwestern Medicine researchers found when the eye has fewer blood capillaries in the back, a medical professional should suspect other early symptoms of dementia.
“Once our results are validated, this approach could potentially provide an additional type of biomarker to identify individuals at high risk of progressing to Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Amani Fawzi, a professor of ophthalmology and lead on the study told Medical Express. “These individuals can then be followed more closely and could be prime candidates for new therapies aimed at slowing down the progression of the disease or preventing the onset of the dementia.”