We generally think of cognitive loss and dementia as something that strikes the elderly. It’s something your parents have to deal with.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a patient ask me for help with a parent who was diagnosed with dementia that was at all concerned with his or her own long-term brain health. Big mistake.
You see–dementia is not something that comes on overnight. Rather, neurodegenerative diseases attack your brain cells over the course of decades, slowly destroying the neurons that make you who you are. It is estimated that, by the time a diagnosis like Alzheimers dementia or Parkinson’s disease is made, that particular region of the brain (dopaminergic cells in the substantia nigra in PD, neurons in the hippocampal region and neocortex in AD) has lost upwards of 70% of the brain cells.
I have said again and again that I do not believe we will ever find an effective drug for these conditions in the stages at which they are typically diagnosed. This is a freight train running. I do believe that we can slow it down using things like ginko, vitamin E and CoQ10 as well as exercise and mental “push-ups.”
My thoughts on this matter, however, are not shared by the drugs companies and researchers looking for the new blockbuster drug for treating cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s dementia. Billions have been spent on two proteins found in the brain of Alzheimer’s dementia patients–amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (NFT–made up of Tau proteins).
The money has been thrown at the idea that, if we could find a drug to destroy these proteins, we’d win the battle against Alzheimer’s dementia (and makes billions…). All of these trials continue to fail miserably, confirming my thoughts that these proteins are byproduct of the damage, not the culprits themselves.
Billions of dollars wasted that could’ve been spent educating the public about how to prevent cognitive loss in the first place. Maybe even buy a treadmill or jumprope for everyone on the planet.
But the drug companies have not yet lost hope at hitting the motherlode of Alzheimer’s drugs. MAYBE, just MAYBE, we’re not using these drugs early enough. If we could just give these drugs to patients who are at a higher risk years earlier they might actually work.
Luckily, we have studies like those found in this particular article to help the drug companies out. In it, researchers looked at 2,125 participants to see if scoring on a composite cognitive test based on tests of episodic memory, executive function, and global cognition had any ability to predict who would develop cognitive impairment / Alzheimer’s dementia years later. Here’s what they found:
- Lower test scores were associated with the development of AD dementia over the duration of the study.
- In the first year after the testing was done (specifically from 0.1 – 0.9 years later), those who were diagnosed with Alzheimers dementia were 984% more likely to have had the lowest scores.
- Later in the study (13.0–17.9 years), those who were diagnosed with AD were 339% more likely to have had lower testing scores.
In other words, lower scores on cognitive testing were predictive of developing Alzheimer’s dementia EIGHTEEN YEARS later.
Almost two decades.
This once again demonstrates that the changes occuring in the brains of those of us who chose not to live with the healthiest of behaviors begins to show a loss of brain function long, long before any formal diagnosis of dementia would be possible.
But, as I mentioned, beware that studies like these will be used as tools to get the failed Alzheimer’s dementia drugs used on patients who have not yet developed the disease, but who are at high risk because of indicators like cogntive testing.