Patients and families affected by Alzheimer’s may gain a new weapon in the fight against one of the world’s most devastating diseases.
A new drug in clinical trials seems to reduce the formation of the plaque that characterizes Alzheimer’s disease, according to a paper published in the journal Nature. If these early results are borne out in subsequent trials, the drug, called aducanumab and made by Biogen, could make a difference in the lives of the 5.4 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Stephen Salloway, M.D., a co-author of the study and the director of a memory program at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I., called it “the best news in my 25 years of conducting Alzheimer’s disease research.”
If the effects of aducanumab are as positive as the early results appear to show, it “would be a game-changer for how we understand, treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” Eric Reiman of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix wrote in Nature.
The ravages of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a disease that attacks the brain, impairing a person’s ability to hold memories, think logically and, eventually, care for him or herself.
While symptoms may vary from person to person, the disease progresses as the brain deteriorates.
Each case is different, but when a person suffers from early-stage Alzheimer’s, he or she may:
- Have difficulty finding the right word, or remembering a name
- Forget things he or she just read
- Lose objects
- Have increasing trouble making plans
In middle-stage Alzheimer’s, symptoms may progress to include:
- Increasing difficulty recalling the events of a person’s own life
- Mood and behavioral changes, such as withdrawing from a challenging social situation
- Confusion about where a person is or what day, month or year it is
- A tendency to wander and become lost
- Compulsive or repetitive behavior, such as shredding tissues, and possible suspiciousness
When Alzheimer’s has progressed to its later stages, a sufferer may:
- Need full-time assistance for personal care
- Forget recent experiences and become unfamiliar with surroundings
- Lose physical abilities such as the ability to walk and, eventually, swallow
- Become vulnerable to pneumonia and other infections
The Alzheimer’s Association says 1 in 9 Americans 65 and older has some form of Alzheimer’s. About one-third of people 85 and older have the disease. Some 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with the disease or other dementias, the association estimates.
Women have a higher risk of being affected by the disease, which was responsible for an estimated $236 billion in health care costs this year, the association says.
Learn more about Alzheimer’s and aducanumab
The study, “The antibody aducanumab reduces Ab plaques in Alzheimer’s disease,” was published in Nature.
A scientific commentary on the paper, “Attack on amyloid-b protein,” also appears in Nature. The journal also published a news story, “Alzheimer’s treatment appears to alleviate memory loss in small trial.”
The Alzheimer’s Association is a good resource for anybody who wants to read about dementia and the causes, treatments and stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The association has published a downloadable report that includes statistics about the reach of Alzheimer’s and its financial impacts. Search for “2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.”
Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease, but you don’t have to suffer alone. Talk to your health care provider if you’re worried about signs that you or a loved one may have the disease. You can find a Providence provider in our directory.