As we age, the fear of developing Alzheimer’s disease and losing our cognitive abilities can be daunting. The heartbreaking experience of watching a loved one suffer from dementia can leave us feeling helpless and uncertain about our own future. But the good news is, the fight against Alzheimer’s disease is far from over.
You may have been told the only thing you can do is “hope for the best” and wait for pharmaceutical treatment — but the truth is far more hopeful.
Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
Cognitive decline is a key worry for the aging population. The impact of Alzheimer’s disease is staggering, with an estimated 5.4 million Americans and 30 million people worldwide currently living with the condition.
Without proper prevention and treatment measures, this number is expected to rise to 160 million by 2050, including 13 million Americans, putting a strain on healthcare systems, particularly Medicare. Current estimates also indicate that it has surpassed cardiovascular disease and cancer to become the third biggest cause of death in the United States. 
Most types of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease are the same; however, there are a few minor distinctions:
- Common Alzheimer’s disease: For those diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, the common form of the disease is typically present, with the progression of the disease mirroring that of older individuals.
- Genetic Alzheimer’s disease: A rare form of the disease, affecting only a few hundred individuals worldwide. Those with specific genetic mutations may develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, due to the direct contribution of these genes to the disease.
The current early-onset Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis is based on detecting indicators of mental impairment such as forgetting important things, growing poor judgment, and increasing confusion about time, places, and life events.
Treatment Advances for Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease has remained untreatable since it was first identified over a century ago. However, scientists have made great progress in recent years. New Alzheimer’s treatment may delay disease development and alleviate symptoms. They can help people maintain their independence and functional skills for longer than they would without treatment.
A new study offers hope for those with memory loss — a novel, personalized and comprehensive program was tested and showed promising results. Nine out of 10 participants, including those with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, reported subjective or objective improvement in their memories within the first three to six months of the program. 
Notably, six patients who were unable to work or were struggling in their jobs before the program were able to return to work or continue working with improved performance and these benefits were sustained over time, even in the patient who had been receiving treatment for the longest period of 2.5 years.
Unfortunately, one patient with advanced-stage Alzheimer’s disease did not show any improvement. Despite the disappointing result for one patient, the study still yielded highly promising results, with 90% showing improvement. This inspires new optimism for those struggling with memory loss and opens up new possibilities for future treatments.
The study, led by Dr. Dale Bredesen of UCLA and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, is the first to propose a 36-point therapeutic program including diet, brain stimulation, exercise, and other steps as a way to reverse and maintain memory loss in patients. This groundbreaking approach presents new avenues for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. [1, 2]
Personalized Medicine Approach for Alzheimer’s Disease
There is no single treatment that can stop or even delay the progression of Alzheimer’s, and drugs have only had minor effects on symptoms. “In the past decade alone, hundreds of clinical trials have been conducted for Alzheimer’s, without success, at an aggregate cost of over $1 billion,” said Dr. Bredesen. 
Combination treatments have been successful in treating other chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, and HIV, but the same approach hasn’t been tested for Alzheimer’s and other memory issues. However, recent research has uncovered a complex network of molecular interactions involved in Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting that comprehensive combination therapy could be effective. [3, 4]
The study considered 150 different variables and personalized treatment according to the patient’s age, gender, medical history, and severity of the disease. After extensive testing, Dr. Bredesen and his team formulated a program that included:
- Adopting a diet high in vegetables, fruits, and non-farmed fish and avoiding simple carbs, gluten, and processed foods
- Incorporating meditation and yoga to reduce stress
- Aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep per night
- Taking daily supplements including melatonin, methylcobalamin, vitamin D3, fish oil, and coenzyme Q10
- Resuming hormone replacement therapy
- Fasting for at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast and 3 hours between dinner and bedtime
- Engaging in 30 minutes of exercise 4-6 times a week
The program’s drawbacks, according to Dr. Bredesen, are its complexity and the responsibility placed on patients and caregivers to adhere to it; none of the patients in the trial was able to complete the entire regimen. The food and lifestyle modifications, as well as needing to take many medicines each day, were the most common complaints.
On the upside, the major side effects of the following therapeutic system were improved health and improved body mass index, a stark contrast to the side effects of many drugs.
The doctor points out that, rather than a single drug directed at a specific target, a broader-based therapy approach may be viable and may be more useful for the treatment of cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s. 
Is It Possible to Reverse Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease?
While it is still unclear whether this treatment can reverse early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, the study provides promising evidence that it may be possible.
For Dr. Bredesen, the findings are “very encouraging,” but he stressed that they are anecdotal and that larger, controlled clinical research is needed. 
The results of the study need to be further tested in a larger trial to confirm or disprove the reported findings, as well as to answer key questions such as the extent of regular improvement, the point in cognitive decline that reversal can be achieved, if this approach is effective for familial Alzheimer’s disease, and how long the improvement lasts. 
Maximizing Life-Long Brain Health
Based on the program that Dr. Bredesen implemented for the patients in the clinical trial, these are steps that can be taken to reduce our risk of developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive decline-related disorders.
It’s important to focus on seven key lifestyle factors: regular exercise, social engagement, a healthy diet, mental stimulation, quality sleep, stress management, and maintaining good vascular health. By factoring these into your daily routine, you can help support brain health and potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline. 
The earlier you begin implementing preventative strategies in your life, such as in your 40s and 50s, the more likely you are to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease as you age.
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- Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s reversed for first time | UCLA
- (PDF) Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic program
- Precision Medicine Approach to Alzheimer’s Disease: Successful Pilot Project – IOS Press
- Is reversing early-stage Alzheimer’s disease possible? A new study finds it may be
- Preventing Alzheimer’s and Dementia—or Slowing its Progress – HelpGuide.org