The latest research has led to a better understanding of the disease and a more certain diagnosis. New drugs are expected to improve the lives of patients in the coming years.
A better-known disease
Alzheimer’s disease progresses for many years before it is visible. The senile plaques multiply as we age. They contain the beta amyloid protein, which is toxic to neurons.
In Alzheimer’s disease these plaques are associated with neurofibrillary degeneration: the Tau protein forms filaments that kill neurons. These two types of lesions gradually cause brain atrophy.
– Factors favouring the disease
–Age: the disease usually appears between 70 and 85 years of age.
–Genetics: the presence of a gene in excess would be at the origin of the hereditary forms. In these rare forms (1% of cases), the disease appears very early, often before the age of 60.
–High blood pressure, high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and a stroke increase the risk.
–Gender: after the age of 75, women are twice as affected.
Family history: a first-degree relative with the disease doubles the risk.
– Significant progress in diagnosis
Specialists are clear: acting early can delay the progression of the disease’s symptoms. Doctors now have a battery of simple tests at their disposal that allow them to know if further research is needed in a specialised centre.
– Test in 30 questions
The first test called MMSE (Minimental Status Examination) consists of 30 questions that assess attention, perception, memory, intelligence, language… The clock test consists of drawing a dial with the hours, the small and large hands are positioned according to the time.
The test of verbal fluency: it is necessary to find in a few minutes all the words of the same family (for example names of animals). Finally, the doctor evaluates the ease of daily life.
– New treatments coming soon?
For Bruno Vellas, geriatrician and coordinator of the Alzhemed study in Europe, new and very promising drugs could well be found very soon. “We are in a phase of tremendous progress in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
Two drugs currently being tested on several thousand patients in the United States and Europe could be marketed within two to three years if the trials are conclusive. They would be aimed at mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Combined with cholinesterase inhibitors, they could reduce symptoms and slow the disease by preventing amyloid peptide plaques from aggregating. Another molecule is also under development but studies are somewhat less advanced.
Finally, the immunotherapy that gave rise to a previous research project whose trials had been stopped because of serious side effects could also lead to a new treatment in the more distant future.