Given the amount of pharmacological therapies that have proven ineffective in treating Alzheimer’s, many pharmaceutical companies have chosen to abandon experimentation. From neurosciences an integrative therapy for Alzheimer patients has arrived that, when associated to pharmacological treatment, is showing promising results.
Failure and new experiments
According to the Italian National Institute of Health(ISS), there are approximately 600,000 Alzheimer patients in Italy alone. And yet finding proper treatment for Alzheimer’s is still a pipe dream.
Anti-amyloid drugs to stop the build-up of amyloid, the protein primarily responsible for forming plaques that kill brain cells in Alzheimer patients, has always been the most-used therapy, but with limited success. Producing alternative drugs, instead, is complicated. Despite continuous progress in brain imaging, which has made it possible to trace the onset and progression of the disease in great detail, until we have a greater understanding of exactly how the disease develops in the brain, it is quite difficult to develop new drugs. Currently, the only medication approved to treat Alzheimer patients in Italy are reversible memantine with acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, as per note 85 of the Italian Medicines Agency.
In search of alternative solutions, greater investments are being made in the fields of early diagnosis, prevention and artificial intelligence. There is also the new trend of cognitive stimulation…
Use it or lose it: cognitive stimulation
Experiments conducted with methods of brain imaging, as mentioned above, have shown:
- Brain connections are continuously altered with new life experiences
- New neurons are continuously formed from neural staminal cells and, in some regions of the brain, this activity continues for an entire lifetime.
These two pieces of scientific evidence and many others have caused scientist Dick Swaab, former director of the Netherlands Institute for Brain Research and professor of neurobiology at the University of Amsterdam, to coin the expression “use it or lose it“, in the sense that you either use your brain and keep it active or you lose it. Cognitive stimulation can help prevent Alzheimer’s, rather, studying, a challenging non-repetitive job, physical activity and hobbies all reduce the probability of contracting the disease in old age.
Prevention is not enough
In Alzheimer patients, nerve cells are not destroyed all throughout the brain, but primarily in the entorhinal cortex, the hippocampus and the locus coeruleus. Atrophy occurs throughout the brain in the very first stages of the disease but is not a synonym of death. According to Swaab’s theory, it is possible to reactivate degenerated neurons.
Cognitive stimulation could thus improve a patient’s state even in cases of full-blown Alzheimer’s. The best results seem to be obtained by associating cognitive stimulation with medicine. This has been verified both through prolonged observation of patients, as well as through experiments carried out on transgenic mice, which, in an enriched environment stimulated by nerve cells, reduced the disease.
How to stimulate the brain
The principle of cognitive stimulation is based on “redundancy”. Every function of the brain can be performed by multiple neuronal systems. Thus, if the main system is damaged, the other systems can step in to replace it. The majority of the treatments used for Alzheimer patients include specific cognitive techniques to stimulate memory, attention and linguistic ability, such as exercises with pen and paper, physical activity, specific cognitive rehabilitation, computerized therapy, occupational therapy, art therapy, psychotherapy and music therapy. Listening to music, for example, stimulates the production of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter of the nervous system, that is present in areas of the brain associated with pleasure. Dopamine stimulates the release of a fundamental hormone released by pituitary gland, oxytocin, which consequently produces the sensation of contentment.
The enormous help of caregivers and families
The caregiver has the most important role in promoting an active lifestyle among Alzheimer patients, which is precisely why Domedica provides psychological counseling services for caregivers within their Patient Support Programs. A caregiver’s mood and ability to manage and reduce stress is enriched by completely understanding the disease and knowing how to handle each and every situation. The well-being of the caregiver is essential, not only for themselves, but for the care and greater peace of mind transmitted relayed to the Alzheimer patient, with obvious benefits in any activity the patient is involved in.
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