Across the globe, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment are increasing. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and it is estimated that every 66 seconds a new person in the US develops the disease. The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is so significant that it is responsible for more deaths than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.1
As the baby boomer population ages, the costs of caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are on trend to cripple the health care industry. The alarming fact is at this time there is no cure for the disease. The pharmaceutical industry has produced a handful a drugs that partially mask the symptoms in some patients but have no effect on the course of the disease or for disease prevention.
Interestingly, much of the medical community has embraced non-pharmaceutical treatments for certain conditions such as heart disease, recognizing that diet, exercise, and stress management play key roles in treatment in addition to medications. However, most physicians have yet to embrace these types of approaches for Alzheimer’s disease, despite the accumulating data on their benefit.
There has been a burst of scientific research in the past five years, and the last year especially, examining lifestyle-related factors and their impact on the symptoms and progression of cognitive impairment/Alzheimer’s disease. Most research studies have focused on the role of individual factors including sleep, diet, exercise, inflammation, gut health, dental health, stress, genetics and others, and many of these studies have shown promising results.
Even more impressive results are starting to emerge in recent studies examining the impact of multi-factorial approaches, similar to what has been successful for heart disease, diabetes, and other disorders. For example, Dr. Dale Bredesen and colleagues from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging studied a multi-component approach to early Alzheimer’s disease, integrating the interventions from the most promising scientific studies into a single comprehensive program.2 The results from this early study were so promising that the Buck Institute initiated the RE:mind program as a response to nationwide interest in the early studies. The RE:mind program is now operated by AFFIRMATIVhealth, a physician-owned company, in an attempt to bring it to a larger number of people. The program is personalized for each participant, based on his or her unique metabolic factors, genetics, lifestyle, and cognitive function.
While there is not enough evidence to say that the RE:mind program and other similar approaches are a “cure” for Alzheimer’s disease, the results from early participants have been profound. Some were even able to return to work after previously having to quit their jobs because of their cognitive decline.
We believe there are probably several reasons that most doctors have not rapidly incorporated these types of approaches into their practice thus far. Changes in the medical system often take time and are generally implemented slowly. Developing a comprehensive protocol based on multiple factors is time, cost, and labor intensive, and supporting patients to help them closely follow these protocols is not easy to accomplish without a devoted support team, which is not available to most physicians. Our medical system also does not encourage lengthy appointments, frequent visits, or costly testing, and insurance companies are more apt to pay for drugs than for lifestyle-based therapy. These difficulties in implementation are understandable, but while the rest of the medical community catches up, AFFIRMATIVhealth is putting this science into the hands of those who need it now, including those with early cognitive impairment/Alzheimer’s disease and those who are a higher risk based on family history, current lifestyle, or genetic factors such as ApoE4.
Written by Marci L. Hardy, PhD
1. Alzheimer’s Association. 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. http://www.alz.org/facts/overview.asp. Accessed September 13, 2016.