Alzheimer’s disease drug treatments have met failure after failure. Many people have decided that prevention is the only hope. Unfortunately, a U.S. panel of experts claims that prevention might be just as elusive as a cure.
From physical activity to avoiding high blood pressure to brain training, a 17-member committee assembled by the National Academies of Sciences concluded, no interventions are “supported by high-strength evidence.” Instead, some high-quality studies found that one or another intervention worked, but other equally rigorous studies found they didn’t.
The three prevention strategies that the report focused on were cognitive training, blood pressure control, and physical activity. (Unfortunately, it didn’t track dietary factors.)
“Even though clinical trials have not conclusively supported the three interventions,” Alan Leshner, chair of the committee and CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in a statement, “the evidence is strong enough to suggest the public should at least have access to these results to help inform their decisions.”
The disappointing conclusion comes in the wake of a review published last month of the 105 experimental anti-Alzheimer’s compounds in development. It concluded that their immediate prospects are so poor that the U.S. is unlikely to meet its goal of having a “meaningful” therapy for Alzheimer’s by 2025. That makes the need for prevention strategies greater than ever.
Some experts outside the committee said it had set too high a bar. Henry Mahncke, CEO of brain-training company Posit Science, criticized the committee for lumping together all kinds of cognitive training. That diluted the results showing that the kind that taps into neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change its structure and function, “consistently works,” while other forms have “poor to mixed results.”
“No one is promising this is going to prevent Alzheimer’s,” said spokesman Niles Frantz, “but we think there is enough evidence to say it can reduce your risk.” Unlike the committee, he said, “we believe it is worth talking publicly about these things.”
However, STAT has learned, a large-scale, U.S.-based lifestyle intervention study to prevent cognitive decline and dementia will be introduced at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London in July. It is expected to be modeled on a Finnish study that found that a kitchen sink approach — healthy eating, brain training, exercise, and managing diabetes and cardiovascular risk — slows cognitive decline.
Gary Chandler is a prion expert. He is the CEO of Crossbow Communications, author of several books and producer of documentaries about health and environmental issues around the world. Chandler is connecting the dots to the global surge in neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and other forms of prion disease. The scientific name for prion disease is transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. The operative word is “transmissible.” Even the global surge in autism appears to be related.