Alzheimer’s is diagnosed by symptoms, brain tests like the MoCA (Montreal Cognitive Assessment) Test, and PET scans which are like MRI’s of the brain. 95% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s do not get a PET scan because it is not covered by insurance and is expensive. Sometimes a spinal tap is needed to assess Alzheimer’s’ bio markers.
The most common symptoms are short term memory loss, disorientation, language impairment, and mood or personality changes. To be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it has to be interfering with the activities of daily living.
Experts think that the brain changes that precede the onset of symptoms you can observe is between 10 and 30 years.
What this means is that it is crucial to have a health care professional periodically check the factors that promote the degeneration of your brain.
Alzheimer’s is characterized by having an overproduction of a substance called amyloid beta, which causes plaques that destroy neurons. There is also a degeneration of the architecture of neurons called neurofibrillary tangles due to a misfolded protein called Tau. In this article we will concentrate on amyloid beta.
There are at least thirty-six factors that promote the over production of amyloid beta. In his ground breaking book, The End of Alzheimer’s, Dr. Dale Bredesen likens these factors to holes in your roof. The reason that there is no drug that reverses Alzheimer’s is that one drug can only work on one hole in the roof which is not very efficient.
Here is the exciting thing. Through lab tests and evaluation of lifestyle you can identify which of the 36 factors are promoting your over production of amyloid beta and REVERSE them.
Dr. Bredesen showed that when you reverse the reasons for the overproduction of amyloid beta you can halt and reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This is fantastic news!
In addition, there is a genetic marker called APOE4. There are several variants of this gene that make your risk for Alzheimer’s higher or lower.
Alzheimer’s is a complex disease. According to Dr. Bredesen, there are 4 subtypes of Alzheimer’s: inflammatory, atrophic, glycotoxic and toxic.
So what to do?
Do the proper lab tests to determine which type you have if you are experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline.
If you are not experiencing symptoms remember that the process of Alzheimers goes on for many years before you experience symptoms. Prevention is key! So, do as many of the lab tests as you can to see what your risks are.
Then, employ targeted supplements or hormones that address the findings in the lab.
Finally, there are lifestyle strategies that are involved in prevention and to halt or reverse the devastating effects of amyloid beta on the neurons in your brain.
Things like adequate sleep, elimination of sleep apnea, fasting, a low carb diet and stress reduction techniques are powerful in tipping the balance toward neuro- regeneration instead of neuro- destruction.
As a neuro-optometrist and a certified nutritionist I have great interest in therapies to help brain function.
There is some exciting current research where light is pulsed at a frequency of 40 Hz into the eyes of mice to affect the gamma waves in their brain. It turns out that people with Alzheimer’s have disruptions in the gamma waves in their brain. By shining light pulsed at 40 Hz (gamma wave frequency) researchers were able to clear 50% of amyloid plaques in the mice after 1 hour of stimulation.
More research needs to be done on humans, but this is an intriguing possibility for treatment in the future.
Finally, there is a new approach to early detection and risk for cognitive decline using retinal imaging. The retina is the forward extension of the brain and reflects what is going on in the brain.
The idea is to detect very small plaques, map their location and follow up after providing therapies to see if the number of plaques has declined. This is much less expensive than PET scans of the brain.
A company called Neuro Vision Imaging, is currently conducting clinical trials to see if this approach can detect early Alzheimer’s and track response to treatment.