There’s been a whole load of noise in the news recently about the new drug, Aducanumab, approved by the FDA to slow down cognitive decline for people living with Alzheimer’s disease.
No other drugs targeting Alzheimer’s have been approved since 2003, so, regardless of ongoing controversies about evidence in the scientific community, we can celebrate this as a step forward for people who are currently suffering from Alzheimer's and their families.
Biogen’s new drug is the first clinically-approved therapy to target and affect the underlying biological disease process. However, this new treatment isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, it’s purpose is to help people live a bit better with their condition.
Alzheimer’s is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and people diagnosed with it can live up to 20 years with this frankly awful and disabling disease.
Are drugs the right solution for tackling the pressing Alzheimer’s issue?
Medications, as good as they are, inevitably fail to get at the root of the problem, can cause nasty side effects and maintain or increase the costs of healthcare. The reason for this is that researchers are a bit late to the party, they’re looking for solutions that are applied when it’s already too late - when the brain is too far gone and it’s not possible to revert back to a healthy state. This also means, frustratingly, that many people with Alzheimer’s who are still functioning relatively well are not being helped. So, even if science could in the future lead us to a cure for Alzheimer’s, right now efforts to fight the disease are being directed in entirely the wrong place.
Prevention is still massively underestimated in our society, which is largely focused on the there and now and on immediate rewards rather than on long-term planning.
Let’s take an analogy. The morning-after pill was a great advancement in medical science when it was developed and it still represents a valuable solution for so many people to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Despite recognising the value of this solution, do we spend time educating our teenagers to use the morning-after pill, or do we run campaigns to educate them to use contraceptive measures instead? Bingo! As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’.
Whilst this makes logical sense when we think about it, the problem is we often don’t think about it at all. Most of the people genuinely interested in the news on the recently launched drug will be people already living with Alzheimer’s, their families, or ageing people scared about the risk of developing the disease in few years.
For us to prevent Alzheimer’s Martina Ratto, Beingwell’s Cognitive Scientist advises:
"Healthy lifestyle is the best 'medicine' we can take throughout our entire life to safeguard against cognitive decline. If we haven't thought about this before, it’s never too late for our brain to embrace new positive habits that will benefit us. Today is always a good day to make a change."
Embracing a healthier lifestyle could help us prevent Alzheimer’s later in life. For some of us, this might mean moving more, increasing the variety of veg we eat, or cutting back on sugar and for others, it might mean learning new coping mechanisms or ways to de-stress.
Anna Sandford-James, Beingwell’s Psychologist and cognitive decline specialist, advises having a nosey at FINGERS:
“FINGERS is a global network of researchers and clinicians who are using non-drug lifestyle interventions to prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of developing dementia. They look at programmes that address diet, physical and cognitive exercise and managing cardiovascular health like help to quit smoking. Much research has shown these types of interventions have significant effects on enhancing cognitive reserve (that is, our brain's resilience to damage). This is increasingly looking like the best method of preventing the impact of dementia.”
Check your brain power: For a clinically validated snapshot of your current cognitive health head on over to your Wellometer page to unlock MyCognition and take our MyCQ assessment. And remember, prevention is better than cure.