WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Currently, there are no drugs that can cure Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and reverse the cognitive decline it causes.
- A new study suggests that some non-drug methods can help improve the cognitive skills of some people with Alzheimer’s.
- Results show that people with or without the Alzheimer’s genes may benefit equally from lifestyle changes.
APOE4 is a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. About 25% of the global population are born with one copy of the APOE4 gene. About 2-3% of that population has two copies of that gene, one they got from their father and another copy from their mother. Two copies of the gene mean a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. By age 85, around 60% of them will develop the disease.
Researchers in Finland have published a new study in JAMA Neurology about how non-drug methods may help people with the genetic risk. Special attention to diet, physical exercise and being socially active have been associated with slowing the progress of AD in some people. Studies on people with APOE4 genetic risk factor, however, have not been conclusive.
The team of researchers used the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) to observe and compare people with and without APOE4 gene.
The participants were randomly subjected to a rigorous diet, exercise program, and memory training program, or to a control program of general health advice. Some of the subjects had the APOE4 gene but had no symptoms of dementia yet, or any significant cognitive impairment. People with the most advanced stages of dementia were not included in the study so the team could focus on subjects at the earlier stages of AD.
The results show that there was a minimal difference on memory tests, processing speed and executive functioning skills between people with and without APOE4. This result was taken from the group assigned to the diet, exercise and brain training. It only suggests that people with or without the APOE4 genetic variant may benefit equally from the lifestyle changes.
Although the findings did not conclude that the non-drug methods or lifestyle changes were more effective in the subjects with the APOE4 genes, they are interesting enough for researchers to find out more on how non-drug methods could improve symptoms in AD patients.
The study supports the growing trend in the field to research both drug and non-drug methods in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease to prevent, rather than cure, the symptoms once they appear.