How to slow down Alzheimer's disease ?

8 min read

Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative condition characterized by the progressive deterioration of cognitive abilities such as memory, language, reasoning, or judgment. It also leads to behavioral changes, including agitation, depressive symptoms, apathy, or aggression.

While there is currently no cure, strategies can be adopted to slow its progression and mitigate its impact on the quality of life. These strategies revolve around three main axes: prevention, medication, and psycho-social support.

Prevention: a proactive defense

Adopting a lifestyle that promotes brain health and minimizes risk factors is the cornerstone of prevention. Recommended measures include :

1. A balanced diet, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and olive oil, while limiting saturated fats, sugars, and alcohol. Some foods with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, such as turmeric, green tea, berries, and dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa, may have protective effects on the brain (Sliwinska and al., 2021).

2. Regular physical exercise, recommended for at least 30 minutes a day, optimizes blood circulation, brain oxygenation, and stimulates neurogenesis. Exercise also helps reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and prevent conditions like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases, which are risk factors for Alzheimer's (Radak and al., 2010).

3. Intellectual and social stimulation is essential to strengthen neuronal networks and brain plasticity. This can be achieved through activities such as reading, writing, learning new skills, games, music, arts, and mastering multiple languages. Maintaining a dense and engaging social network that promotes emotional sharing, memory recall, and involvement in collective projects (associative, cultural, or volunteer activities) is crucial.

4. Monitoring genetic risk factors, especially for individuals with a family history. Knowledge of genetic mutations, such as those in the APOE4 gene, can warn of an increased risk (Serrano-Pozo and al., 2021). Biomarkers can be detected through genetic tests, although their widespread use is currently limited due to reliability concerns and cost. However, they could play a crucial role in future preventive strategies.

Medication: addressing cognitive decline

Pharmacotherapy aims to slow cognitive degeneration and address behavioral changes. Commonly used medications include :

1. Cholinesterase inhibitors, which improve cholinergic transmission by interfering with the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and judgment. These are prescribed for mild to moderate forms of the disease, aiming to improve cognitive functions and reduce certain behavioral disorders but may have side effects like gastrointestinal issues and headaches.

2. N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists that modulate the effects of glutamate, another neurotransmitter crucial for learning and synaptic plasticity. Indicated for moderate to severe forms, these drugs can alleviate symptom progression and improve the quality of life by preventing neuronal overstimulation. Side effects may include confusion or cardiac issues.

It is important to note that these treatments are not universally effective, and their benefits may diminish over time. They do not stop or cure the disease but only slow it down. Consultation with a healthcare professional for personalized advice is essential.

Research is developing therapies targeting characteristic brain lesions of the disease, such as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary degeneration. These approaches involve immunological, genetic, cellular, or molecular strategies, but conclusive results are yet to be achieved.

Other innovative avenues are explored for Alzheimer's prevention and treatment, such as the use of soft nanoparticles, including nanoliposomes and exosomes. These intelligent drug delivery systems can cross the blood-brain barrier and target brain tissues. A promising method is intranasal administration, which should be studied in preclinical and clinical trials for neurodegenerative diseases (Passeri and al., 2022).

Support: comprehensive care

A holistic approach is crucial in supporting individuals with Alzheimer's. It involves comprehensive, personalized, and coordinated care, engaging various healthcare professionals and suitable structures. This includes :

  • Early diagnosis, facilitating care planning, informing the patient and their families, receiving regular medical follow-ups, planning necessary legal and financial measures, and participating in therapeutic education programs.

  • Environment adaptation to ensure safety and comfort while stimulating the patient. This involves removing sources of danger, simplifying daily tasks, promoting spatial-temporal references, maintaining a routine, offering activities tailored to the patient's abilities and preferences, respecting their pace and needs, and communicating with them clearly, positively, and empathetically.

  • Seeking external professional assistance at home or in specialized facilities based on the patient's dependency level and the needs of caregivers. Healthcare professionals such as nurses, caregivers, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, etc., can provide support. There are also welcoming structures like day centers, night reception centers, temporary or permanent accommodations that offer tailored care, activities, and support. Associations like Alzheimer’s Association enrich the range of available resources with information, training, and moral support.

  • Supporting caregivers, an essential link in the care process who often face physical, psychological, social, and material difficulties. It is important that they take care of themselves, carve out time for rest, leisure, and relaxation, seek help, express their emotions, needs, and expectations, stay informed, engage with other caregivers, and receive appropriate support.

Alzheimer's disease has serious consequences for the lives of patients and their families. There are ways to try to slow it down or mitigate its effects. These approaches hinge on active prevention, appropriate medication, and the organization of tailored support. It is essential to educate oneself about the disease and consult a doctor if concerning symptoms arise. If possible, offering support to research and organizations combating the disease can also make a meaningful contribution.