Dementia is still a major unsolved problem in the world of modern medicine. One in every ten people over the age of 65 has some form of this condition — that's 5.5 million people across the country. Chances are good that you know someone who has experienced cognitive decline or who will experience it in the future.
There are numerous different types of dementia, but in a nutshell, they all share the common characteristics of brain cell death and corresponding mental decline. This is usually caused by deposits of harmful proteins in the brain. Sometimes the decline is also caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain. The roots of cognitive decline are still poorly understood, but researchers have identified some genetic factors that can make people more likely to get the disease. Certain lifestyle factors also seem to influence whether people get cognitive decline. A great deal of research is still underway on cognitive decline, and one day medical professionals may have a better understanding of how it can be predicted or diagnosed earlier.
There is currently no cure for any kind of dementia-related disease. Once the damage occurs in the brain, it can't be fixed, at least not with our current level of medical understanding. However, cognitive decline can be treated. Certain lifestyle factors, such as getting regular exercise, spending time with other people, and seeking out home care services, can slow down the death of brain cells and help people with cognitive decline continue to live full and rewarding lives for as long as possible.
Researchers and medical professionals learn more about cognitive decline every year. Here's a look back at some of the most notable events and discoveries that happened in 2017.
Developments in Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease 2017
1. 2017 was a year of setbacks for new treatments.
Many people had high hopes that some effective new treatments for cognitive decline would come out in 2017. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. Merck, Lundbeck, Accera, and Axovant all reported failures with new drugs that were still in the testing stages. This is disappointing news, especially because the most recent treatment for Alzheimer's came out all the way back in 2003. However, a slew of other potential treatments are still being researched, and we can expect to have news about them within the next few years.
2. There are nine potentially controllable risk factors for cognitive decline.
BBC News has announced that there are nine distinct risk factors for cognitive decline that can be fully or somewhat controlled. The full list is:
Some of these factors, such as hearing loss, may be hard to control. But in general, individuals can take steps to reduce their risk of cognitive decline by avoiding the risk factors on this list as much as possible. It's never too early — or too late — to start taking control of your health.
3. Being married may stave off the risk of cognitive decline.
Married people are less likely to experience cognitive decline than single or widowed people, according to new research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. Given that social isolation is one of the major lifestyle risk factors for Alzheimer's disease, this makes sense. This research highlights how important it is for family members or home care services to interact frequently with single or widowed seniors and stay alert for the early signs of cognitive decline.
4. Being obese earlier in life can contribute to cognitive decline as a person ages.
Losing weight may not prevent the problems that obesity causes. Researchers at the University College London discovered that people who were obese at midlife were more likely to develop cognitive decline later on, even if they maintained a healthy weight later in life. This doesn't mean that all obese people will eventually experience cognitive decline. However, it does emphasize the importance of staying as healthy as possible at every age - not just at the ages when health problems start to become more likely.
5. Alzheimer's may not occur only in the brain.
Alzheimer's is usually regarded as a brain disease, but it may actually be more of a full-body problem. The University of British Columbia did a study on mice and discovered that amyloid-beta, the protein that causes Alzheimer's disease, can travel throughout the body - it doesn't occur in the brain alone. This finding could have a major influence on the development of new treatments. It's very difficult to create medicine that targets the brain effectively, but if Alzheimer's occurs throughout the body, it may be possible to develop treatments that target the liver or kidneys instead.
6. Polluted air may be to blame for some cases of cognitive decline.
Could city dwellers be at greater risk for cognitive decline than people who live in more rural areas? Maybe, according to new research. Air pollution appears to be linked to higher rates of dementia-related diseases, and some researchers even estimate that pollution could cause one out of five cases of cognitive decline. This finding is still somewhat controversial, and more research needs to be done in this area - but in the meantime, it's probably a good idea to avoid polluted areas as much as possible.
Home Care Services for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Researchers who study dementia are making new discoveries every year. While we still don't know exactly why some people get cognitive decline or how to reverse the condition, we know more than ever before about how to reduce risk factors and help people with cognitive decline live happy and comfortable lives. Medicine is advancing quickly, and in the next few years, we may have more effective treatments and a better understanding of cognitive decline.
The home caregivers at Alegre Home Care go through extensive training for Alzheimer's and dementia care. If you or a loved one is in need of home care services in California, reach out to us today at one of our locations.