Older people who have relied on a class of drugs called benzodiazepines to reduce anxiety or induce sleep are at higher risk of going on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, new research finds, with those whose use of the medications is most intensive almost twice as likely to develop the mind-robbing disorder.
Benzodiazepines – marketed under such names as Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin – are widely used to treat insomnia, agitation and anxiety, all of which can be early signs of impending Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. But the current study sought to disentangle benzodiazepines’ use in treating early dementia symptoms, probing instead the possibility that heavy use of the medications may permit, cause or hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia.
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DENVER – Researchers in Denver have found a definitive link between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.
“If we want to find a cure to Alzheimer’s, we have to further study Down syndrome,” scientist Huntington Potter said.
Potter and his colleague Tom Blumenthal testify at a congressional hearing in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.
“We’ll be meeting with members of Congress and telling them about the connection and hope this will improve the chances for better funding for NIH,” Potter said.
Potter and Blumenthal work at the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, which is based at the University of Colorado – Anschutz Medical Campus They’re work is funded by the Denver-based Global Down Syndrome Foundation.
“The connection between Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s became known gradually,” Blumenthal said. “As people with Down Syndrome got older.. and they didn’t used to…they got old enough to get Alzheimer’s.”
Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by an extra copy of the 21st chromosome.
“And that, turned out to have on it the gene that causes Alzheimer’s disease,” Blumenthal said.
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Six or so years ago, Frank Longo, MD, PhD, Stanford’s chair of neurology and neurological sciences, was optimistic that a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease was on its way. More than a decade earlier, pharmaceutical companies had begun testing drugs to eradicate one of its hallmark signs—clumps of protein sprinkled randomly throughout the brain. The drugs were antibodies that bind to the protein, called beta amyloid, or A-beta for short.
“They poured a lot of money into clinical trials of these antibodies in Alzheimer’s patients,” Longo said. “And by around five years ago, with the conclusion of early-stage trials, it looked like they might succeed. So, many in the field—including me—had some guarded optimism that when the pivotal phase-3 trials were completed, this approach would have at least some beneficial effect.”
On the order of 30 million people worldwide, including more than 5 million Americans, have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, which raids the brain and steals a person’s ability to remember, reason and imagine. Barring substantial progress in curing or preventing it, Alzheimer’s will affect 16 million U.S. residents by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The group also reports that the disease is now the nation’s most expensive, costing over $200 billion a year. Recent analyses suggest it may be as great a killer as cancer or heart disease.
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At Medical News Today, hardly a day goes by without coming across a study about Alzheimer’s disease. There is no doubt that scientists across the world are working hard to find ways to prevent, treat and cure this debilitating condition, which affects almost 36 million people globally. But are they making any progress? We investigate.
First described in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for around 60-80% of cases. It is characterized by problems with memory, thinking and behavior.
Onset is most common in individuals aged 65 and over, although people in their 40s and 50s can develop what is classed as early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, meaning memory loss is mild in the beginning, but it worsens over time to the extent that individuals are unable to have conversations or respond to their surroundings.
There are treatments that have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Alzheimer’s. For example, cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine can help treat memory and thinking problems. But these drugs just help manage the symptoms; there is currently no cure for the disease.
In the US, around 5 million people aged 65 and over are living with Alzheimer’s, the majority of whom are women. This number is expected to almost triple to 16 million by 2050. Figures are similar worldwide; by 2050, more than 115 million people are expected to have the disease.
Current Alzheimer’s prevalence in the US makes it the 6th leading cause of death, killing more than half a million seniors every year. To put this in perspective, Alzheimer’s disease currently kills more people each year than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.
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Alzheimer’s disease remains a challenge in management. With nearly 8 million sufferers from this condition in the seven major markets of the world and anticipated increases in the future. Considerable research is in progress to understand the pathomechanism of the disease and find a cure. The only drugs approved currently are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors but they do not correct the basic pathology of the disease, beta amyloid deposits and neurofibrillary tangles. Several new approaches emphasize neuroprotection as well.
Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is an important first step in management. Several biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid, blood and urine can detect the disease. They provide a valuable aid to the clinical examination and neuropsychological testing which are the main diagnostic methods supplemented by brain imaging. Genotyping, particularly of ApoE gene alleles is also useful in the evaluation of cases and planning management.
The current management of Alzheimer’s disease is reviewed and it involves a multidisciplinary approach. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are mostly a symptomatic treatment but some claims are made about a neuroprotective effect. Currently the only approved neuroprotective therapy in is memantine. Management of these patients also require neuroleptics for aggressive behavior and antidepressants. There is an emphasis on early detection at the stage of mild cognitive impairment and early institution of neuroprotective measures. The value of mental exercise in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease is being recognized.
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