The Longest Day
As I write this, the sun is setting on the longest day of the year. It is also Alzheimer's Awareness month and the Alzheimer’s Association is using the longest day of the year as part of their campaign to bring awareness to Alzheimer’s. Some Alzheimer’s patients suffer from sundowning, which is known as “late-day confusion.” This is when their confusion and agitation gets worse in the late afternoon or evening. So the longest day of the year would be particularly challenging for them. I want to do my part and help by using this month’s blog to talk about it because this disease is exploding. It has gone from being the #6 killer in the United States to #3 and in the United Kingdom it is already #1.
At this point, there are very few people who have not been affected in one way or the other by Alzheimer's. It's not only a huge factor in our mortality rates, but it's also extremely costly. Alzheimer's and other dementias will cost our nation approximately $259 million dollars and by the year 2050 these cost could rise to $1.1 trillion dollars and that is just the start. As I wrote last month in my blog, caregivers are already providing billions of hours annually of unpaid assistance. This one disease alone could bankrupt Medicare easily.
And if you're a woman it's just another thing that we are on the wrong side of biology for because two out of three Alzheimer's cases are women.
What Treatments options are available?
Unfortunately a genuinely new Alzheimer's drug has not been approved since 2003 and the currently approved Alzheimer's medications are ineffective in stopping or slowing the course of the disease - according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Of the 244 experimental Alzheimer's drugs that were tested from 2000-2010, exactly one mematine was approved in 2003 and its effects are modest at best. Recently, a clinical trial of a Merck Alzheimer’s drug called Verubecestat was cancelled as it was not effective. In fact, “the drug giant Pfizer halted all its Alzheimer’s (and Parkinson’s) research and laid off its researchers after a similar failure. After decades of research and billions of dollars, physicians and the millions of Alzheimer’s patients are still left without effective, long-term pharmaceutical aids in the face of a disease that robs people of their memories, their ability to function as adults, their personalities, and eventually their lives.”[i]
“Everyone knows someone who is a cancer survivor but no one knows and Alzheimer's Survivor.” – Dr. Dale Bredesen
So is there absolutely no hope with the disease? Why hasn't there been more progress? Where do we go from here?
You know that old definition of insanity? Where you do the same things over and over and expect different results? Well, perhaps the drug companies need to get off the merry-go-round and try to approach this differently.
We have become a society that wants to take a pill for every ill. The pharmaceutical companies have become very good at marketing to us and making us believe that a new drug will be the answer to this disease. However so far that has not proven to be true. Why?
In general, pharmaceutical drugs focus on resolving or hiding the symptoms and don’t address the root cause of the issue. In the case of Alzheimer's, these drugs by and large have focused on breaking down or slowing down the infamous Amyloid Plaques and Tau tangles. This singular approach does not seem to be working. And even the theory of Amyloid Plaques and Tau Tangles is not solid. “Some people with all the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease do not have a buildup of beta or tau in their brains, and some people have the buildup but no symptoms.”[ii]
Maybe the question that should be asked is why are they there to begin with? What purpose do they serve? They seem to be the villain in the story, but what if they're not?
In fact, this is exactly what Dr. Dale Bredesen is proposing. In his book The End of Alzheimer's, Dr. Bredesen contends that the amyloid plaques and tau tangles are in fact protective mechanisms. He says that when we are young we have two processes in our brain, synapse building/maintenance and synapse dismantling and they are in equilibrium. When we learn, synapses are formed and strengthened and when we can afford to forget then that memory is broken up for parts to be recycled into synapses.[iii]
However as we age, the inputs needed for synaptic growth and maintenance (things like hormones and nutrients) grow more scarce. The receptors inform the brain that resources are scarce and so the brain decides to downsize. This downsizing is protective. In other words, the brain is pulling back, preserving only the functions it needs to stay alive and not expending energy or resources on the formation of memories it doesn't need.[iv]
Given a choice between remembering how to speak or breathe or regulate your body temperature versus remembering what happened on the “Friends” rerun last night, your brain decides to focus on the basics. That's why Alzheimer’s patients can remember people from their childhood, but they won't remember what they had for breakfast this morning.[v]
Dr. Bredesen has identified approximately 36 factors that can contribute to this downsizing effort. He uses the metaphor of a roof with holes. If you have 36 holes in your roof and you only patch one, you're still going to get plenty wet inside your house and you're not going to notice that one hole is fixed. This is much of the same way that the pharmaceutical drugs work. They may be fixing one hole, but there are still could be many holes in your roof. And let's be clear here not everyone has all 36 factors as an issue. Some people might have five areas that are a problem and some people may have all 36 in some extreme case. However many holes that you have, it's important to fix them and fix them in an optimal way. Unfortunately, there isn't a simple way to measure at one time these 36 different holes or to fix them once they have been identified. Dr. Bredesen has come up with his own protocol of the 36 factors that should be tested and addressed.
The details are too complex to address in my simple blog. I would encourage you to go and by the book: The End of Alzheimer’s. But I do want to point out that there is hope. It may not take the form of a pill for this ill, but in improving your overall health.
As a health coach, I have been working with Alzheimer’s clients for almost a year now. I help them implement the Bredesen Protocol (which can be complex) and we are starting to see some success. I would also highly recommend that we all should be doing what we can to protect our brains – it is never too early. In fact, Alzheimer’s starts 10-20 years earlier – it is just that the brain is able to compensate for awhile. But the earlier you catch it the better.
If you want to find out how you can start a health brain program, or have some cognitive decline issues you want to address, please contact me at: JKenney@ChamleonWellness.com or www.ChameleonWellness.com.
While the pharmaceutical companies have not been successful – there is still hope. Every day is precious to an Alzheimer’s patient – don’t wait another day to start addressing it.
[iii] The End of Alzheimer’s, Dr. Dale Bredesen
[iv] The End of Alzheimer’s, Dr. Dale Bredesen
[v] The End of Alzheimer’s, Dr. Dale Bredesen