‘Neurostatins’ may reduce the risk of Dementia
Researchers at the University of Cambridge this past week revealed an enormous win in the growing battle against dementia and an ageing population that will face it. A drug being used for Cancer has been shown to prevent the disease.According to the scientists, their research could see people at risk given “neurostatins” to reduce their chances of developing the degenerative disease. The research points to GPs being able to prescribe preventative medicines in the same way statins are used to prevent heart problems by doctors today, with over a third of all adults able to claim statins under the healthcare systems in the western world.The Cancer treatment that is being said to halt the development of the disease is called bexarotene and is a drug that is used to treat lymphoma. It is referred to as a neurostatin and there is some discussion that it could become a widely used medication.“It is a powerful first step. The study shows it possible to have a statin-type approach to neurodegenerative diseases,” said the Lead researcher Prof Michele Vendruscolo, of the University of Cambridge.“The hope is to have for Alzheimer’s the same type of drugs that statins are for heart disease. That is the ambition.”“This in terms of an approach for Alzheimer’s disease would be the equivalent of what statins do for heart conditions. So you would take them well in advance of developing the condition to reduce your risk.“The dream would be to find a compound which is cheap and safe and therefore can be given early to everybody.”
According to researchers, treatment for the degenerative disease could start well before symptoms would be likely, at as young an age as 30.Dementia is a catch all term for impaired mental functioning that affects daily life. Underneath that umbrella term are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and other conditions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent form of dementia.Vascular dementia is caused by inadequate blood flow to the brain. Often, this low blood supply will cause a stroke, which will lead to the death of brain tissue. Some strokes are so small they are not noticeable to the patient.Through the use of statins and other medications, doctors and patients are doing a better job than in prior decades of controlling cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease, which in turn can contribute to vascular dementia.Alzheimer’s disease, on the other hand, is characterized by the build-up of amyloid plaques and so-called tau tangles, which are normal proteins run amok. Brain scans have shown that these clumps can begin to develop as early as 20 years before Alzheimer’s symptoms manifest themselves.Alzheimer’s generally develops gradually, while vascular dementia can develop abruptly, in the case of a big stroke, or more gradually, with many small strokes.
The good news is that lifestyle choices, including a healthy diet and exercise, can help prevent heart disease and delay the onset of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. The brain uses oxygen and glucose, a source of energy, which travels to the brain through the circulatory system which loosely translated to a “healthy heart is a healthy brain.”Dementia takes such a heavy toll on those afflicted and their caregivers that it deserves far greater public attention.Seniors who lose their memory, cognitive skills, emotional control and ability to perform basic tasks, such as feeding and bathing themselves, need others to care for them day and night.That burden is most often borne by family members. Indeed, recent studies have found that those who care for dementia sufferers are three times more distressed than other caregivers.Many may have to stop work which, in turn, exacts a heavy economic cost on society.The scale of the problem will grow as society ages and the incidence of dementia rises.This will require society to take a multifaceted approach to meet the growing challenge.The first is to identify causative factors and mitigate them.The risk of dementia is 30 times higher for housewives and retirees than for workers.Those with primary education are also more susceptible than those with tertiary education.
While the causes of dementia are not straightforward, ranging from genetic to physical and psychosocial factors, there are indications that staying happy, healthy and engaged can help prevent or delay its onset.Thus the push to help older people to stay employed and women to return to work serves a dual purpose:It addresses both a labour crunch and the challenge of staving off brain degeneration and its tragic consequences.Also important are efforts to help seniors age in place in order to keep social connections alive.Those who exercise regularly, manage chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, and immerse themselves in social networks of family, friends and interest groups might be spared the onset of severe cognitive decline. This is a message that bears repeating.More also needs to be done to enable early detection and treatment, and to strengthen support for affected families.A recent study by experts and their international counterparts was an important step in identifying unmet needs and estimating caregivers’ burdens.Such findings ought to spur a range of programmes aimed at those afflicted.Theirs is a long journey to reclaim the ability to live their lives more normally and less painfully.