It’s been said that once you know one person with Alzheimer’s, you know one person with Alzheimer’s. In other words: people are unique, and not everyone will respond to a particular treatment. This truth was highlighted in a study based on the combined efforts of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and UCLA Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Disease Research.
In the study, researchers developed a unique program that has reversed memory loss in some people with early Alzheimer's disease or its precursors (mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, and subjective cognitive impairment, or SCI). The program is called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND) and involves a combination of lifestyle changes, brain stimulation, and medication.
According to the study, the MEND therapeutic approach was “programmatic and personalized rather than monotherapeutic and invariant.” In other words, treatment was specifically designed for each individual.
Study author Dale Bredesen, M.D., a professor at both the Buck Institute and UCLA, and colleagues, said in the study, “The initial results for these patients show greater improvements than have been reported for other patients treated for Alzheimer's disease. The results provide further support for the suggestion that such a comprehensive approach to treat early Alzheimer's disease and its precursors, MCI and SCI, is effective. The results also support the need for a large-scale, personalized clinical trial using this protocol.”
All but one of the 10 people who were included in this study carried a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, meaning that they carried at least one copy of the APOE4 allele. Five of the study participants carried two copies of the gene, which means they have 10 to 12 times the risk of developing AD compared to someone without the gene.
A 2014 abstract from this same study provided details of the treatment plans as well as case studies. The general plan for the individuals include:
Goal: Optimize diet, minimize inflammation
Approach: Patients given choice of several low glycemic, low inflammatory, low grain diets
Rationale and references: Minimize inflammation, minimize insulin resistance
Within the general plan, each patient was given individual plans which included not only diet but also exercise, stress reduction, meditation, supplements, oral hygiene, fasting and, for one woman, reinstatement of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) that had been discontinued following the Women’s Health Institute report in 2002.
While we as a community wait for more information from researchers as they continue to follow the participants in the MEND study, there is something that we can do to limit our own risk of developing Alzheimer’s. We can work on changing our lifestyle to become healthier overall. Diet, exercise, and stress management have been repeatedly shown to be beneficial to our cognitive function. So, too, does keeping our brains active.
We all know that “doing everything right” is not a guarantee that we won’t develop Alzheimer’s disease. Most of us in the Alzheimer’s community know people who, if these steps were a guarantee, would never have developed the disease in the first place. But in light of the fact that most of the recommended lifestyle changes for combating the effects of AD are the same as those recommended for maintaining a healthy heart, we have everything to gain by trying.