Small trial shows memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease can be reversed

A small clinical trial of 10 patients with early Alzheimer’s disease has shown that the memory loss and cognitive impairment can be reversed.

Not only were improvements sustained, but some patients returned to work, regained their ability to speak different languages, and showed an increase in brain matter volume after just a few months.

“All of these patients had either well-defined mild cognitive impairment, subjective cognitive impairment, or had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease before beginning the program,” says one of the team, Dale Bredesen, University of California, Los Angeles. “Follow up testing showed some of the patients going from abnormal to normal.”

The study investigated the effects of a new kind of personalised treatment on the cognitive abilities of 10 patients who were experiencing age-related decline.

The treatment – called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration, or MEND – is based on 36 different factors, including changes in diet, exercise, and sleeping habits, plus the integration of certain drugs, vitamins, and brain stimulation therapy to their regular routine.

These lifestyle changes and treatments were sustained for five to 24 months, and the team from UCLA and the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing in California reports that many of the patients showed real, life-altering improvements as a result.

According to the researchers, this is the first study to objectively show that memory loss in patients can be reversed, and improvement sustained.

“The magnitude of improvement in these 10 patients is unprecedented, providing additional objective evidence that this programmatic approach to cognitive decline is highly effective,” says Bredesen.

Publishing their results in the journal Aging, the team hasn’t gone into much detail about how MEND works, probably because each treatment involves a complex combination of factors that has been specifically designed to treat just one individual, as each person’s version of Alzheimer’s appears to be different.

But they do mention something that all but one of the patients have in common – they are all at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, carrying at least one copy of the APOE4 allele. Five of the patients are carrying two copies of APOE4, which gives them a 10- to 12-fold increased risk of developing the disease, the team explains.

This means there could be some benefit in getting tested for this genetic risk, because patients might finally be able to do something to stall the progression of the disease. Around 65 percent of Alzheimer’s cases in the US involve APOE4.

“We’re entering a new era,” says Bredesen. “The old advice was to avoid testing for APOE because there was nothing that could be done about it. Now we’re recommending that people find out their genetic status as early as possible so they can go on prevention.”

Learn more: Small trial shows memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease can be reversed

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