Many healthy people are turning to lifestyle changes ranging from better nutrition and physical fitness to brain games and increased social interactions in an effort to delay Alzheimer’s that affected family members. Many drug companies have developed experimental medicines but so far, none have proved effective in preventing the disease. Research has shown that more exercise and better nutrition can improve the mental function of older people at risk of developing dementia.
As drug development flounders, people fearing Alzheimer’s embrace lifestyle changes
By Robert Weisman | Boston Globe Article
They watched helplessly as Alzheimer’s robbed their loved ones of memory and cognition. They’ve agonized over the slow progress toward a cure for a scourge that’s long defied treatment. They’re terrified the disease could someday come for them.
As one failed drug trial after the next has dashed hopes for a medical miracle, many healthy people haunted by the specter of Alzheimer’s are turning to research that suggests lifestyle changes — from fitness regimens and brain games to better diets and social interactions — might help stave off the disease or push back its onset.
“It’s very scary [knowing] that it could happen,” said Ann Whaley-Tobin, 68, of Canton, a retired schoolteacher whose mother died of Alzheimer’s. Whaley-Tobin bicycles, practices yoga, and tries to keep her mind active through reading and crossword puzzles.
For drug makers, developing the first Alzheimer’s therapy has long been seen as the great white whale: the toughest challenge and biggest opportunity. An estimated 5.7 million Americans, two-thirds of them women and the great majority over 65, live with the condition, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The cohort is projected to swell to 14 million by 2050, as the population ages. Today’s drugs treat symptoms but don’t alter the disease’s course.
More than a dozen seemingly promising experimental medicines have flopped in clinical trials over the past three decades. The latest failure came this month, when Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca scrapped their drug candidate, lanabecestate.
By contrast, some of the most encouraging Alzheimer’s news of late has come not from pharmaceutical labs but from studies that take a more holistic look at how to grow old while at risk of the disease. A two-year study in Finland, for example, found in 2014 that what researchers call preventative steps, such as more exercise and better nutrition, helped improve the mental function of more than 1,200 older people deemed at risk of developing dementia.
In an effort to expand that research, a $20 million clinical trial sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association is recruiting 2,500 volunteers ages 60 through 79 at up to five sites across the United States. The two-year study, called US POINTER, will evaluate the impact of exercise, nutrition, cognitive and social interaction, and self-management of medical conditions. [read entire article]