Researchers have discovered a way to slow the progression of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, and there's promising work underway to delay the start of symptoms as well. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Current medication available for Alzheimer's disease patients works to lessen symptoms of memory loss and confusion. There is no cure.
However, researchers now say that high doses of Vitamin E may help delay progression of the disease by 20 percent in those with mild to moderate Alzheimer's.
"What we saw was a benefit in slowing the progression of functional decline," says Mary Sano, director of the Mt. Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. "That means slowing the rate at which they lose functional activity, such as preparing meals, handling finances."
The clinical trial monitored 613 patients at Veterans Affairs Medical Centers for five years.
They took vitamin E, along with their other Alzheimer's medication.
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"We also saw a very nice effect on the amount of time a caregiver needs to take care of these individuals," Sano says. "There, we saw a difference of about two hours a day."
Sano says the next step is taking an even closer look at Vitamin E.
"So that we can find out if we could develop other agents that work the same way, maybe even better," she says.
While vitamin E may help slow the progression of Alzheimer's, that's just one stage of the disease. Scientists are making great strides in their efforts to also delay its onset.
"There's a loss of nerve cells in key regions of the brain, especially as the disease begins," said Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mt. Sinai Cognitive Care Center. "One thing that would be desirable would be to try and keep those nerve cells alive for as long as possible."
Gandy has been working on the project for four years. His team has been able to re-create neurotransmitters that stimulate the birth of new nerve cells in mice impaired by the Alzhiemer's gene.
"With the mice, it restores their behavior and their learning completely back to normal," he says. "So it's very dramatic."
Gandy hopes to begin human trials within the next couple years. While it may not prevent Alzheimer's from happening, it is a step toward a cure, potentially giving patients their independence for a little while longer.