Here are some sobering facts from The Alzheimer's Association:
Over 6 million Americans today have Alzheimer's Disease, projected to more than double by the year 2050.
Alzheimer's has a higher mortality rate than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, with 1 in 3 American senior citizens dying from it or another form of dementia.
At age 45, the risk of Alzheimer's is estimated at 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 10 for men.
These numbers are staggering, frightening, and discouraging. So what are we doing about it? Let's look at some good news and breakthroughs in Alzheimer's research and support.
Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia: A Recap
First, let's provide a little clarification since we may often hear the words "Alzheimer's" and "dementia" used together, if not interchangeably. Dementia is the general umbrella term for memory loss or the deterioration of specific cognitive abilities when these issues have become severe enough to impede daily life or function.
Alzheimer's Disease is a type of deDisease and the most common cause, accounting for roughly 60-80% of dementia cases today. Alzheimer's Disease is irreversible, progDisease, and currently incurable. Given this, medical resources are presently divided between seeking a cure, slowing the progression of the disease, and providing educatDisease support for current patients and their families or caregivers.
ChatGPT and Alzheimer's Detection?
Pick any modern-day topic — workplace innovation and employment, art, law, music, ethics — and you can find endless information on how ChatGPT will revolutionize it. ChatGPT is the AI chatbot "that's changing everything," it can be easy to lose track of the significant developments that seem to be happening all at once. But we need to discuss something here: ChatGPT passed the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). So now that Dr. ChatGPT is in, what could that mean for Alzheimer's research in particular?
AI Analysis of Speech Patterns
Researchers are currently using ChatGPT to analyze adult speech and language in the hope of honing in on the early detection of Alzheimer's. By feeding ChatGPT audio clips of participant responses to questions found on a standard dementia test, researchers are training it to isolate the subtle differences in the patterns. The system currently stands at an 80% accuracy rate in identifying Alzheimer's patients, and as we know, that rate is likely to increase rapidly as the AI is fed more information. With early detection comes the possibility of earlier support for Alzheimer's patients and, if other breakthroughs continue, maybe someday soon, a cure.
The "Gene Silencing" Drug That Could Change the Game for Alzheimer's and Dementia
As of late spring of 2023, phased trials were underway for a potential breakthrough new treatment option. Known as BIIB080, the new drug is the first treatment to specifically target the tau protein, which is associated with Alzheimer's, dementia, and other neurodegenerative diseases. The issue isn't necessarily the tau protein itself but what can happen if and when tau proteins go bad or form impenetrable tangles within the brain?
Hope in the Clinical Trials
The goal of BIIB080 is to mute the gene coding for tau and lower its production, which could drastically alter the course of neurogenerative conditions. Further research and trials are needed to assess the safety and effectiveness of the new drug fully, but results so far have been promising: two treatment groups have seen higher than 50% reductions in the total level of tau production after 24 weeks of drug treatment.
Participants in the trial also handled the drug well, with all patients completing the treatment phase and over 90% completing the post-treatment degree. The most common side effect reported was a headache after receiving doses of BIIB080, but overall only mild to moderate side effects were documented within the trial group.
Other Treatments on the Horizon?
As of May 2023, are currently 141 drugs undergoing clinical trials for Alzheimer's treatment. Unlike BIIB080, the majority of these drugs focus on slowing the progression of Alzheimer's by breaking down the harmful proteins that create tangles along the neural pathways of the brain.
In early 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted accelerated approval for Leqembi, one of the drugs intended to target harmful protein plaque buildup. While patients with advanced Alzheimer's may not benefit from the treatment, trial patients with mild to moderate cognitive impairment and memory loss showed improvement in their symptoms after receiving biweekly antibody infusions. Another drug, Donanemab, was recently shown to slow cognitive decline among early-stage Alzheimer's patients by about 35%.
New Hope for Dementia Patients and Loved Ones
Overall, 2022 and 2023 have already proven their significance in the battle against Alzheimer's Disease and dementia. Before this year, a breakthrough drug treatment had not been approved in 20 years. Before this, drugs were available only to mitigate symptoms but not to attack the root cause. What we're seeing now in the medical field is new hope for treatments that could reverse or cure the disease, along with the government's willingness to fast-track Diseasel processes and hopefully make these treatments available to the people who need them.
Next Steps for Living With Alzheimer's Disease
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, please know that support exists. You can: