Tag Archives: alzheimer’s

Not too old for Clinical Trials?

It is not news to anyone that we are all living longer. Life expectancy in the United States increased by 30 years during the 20th Century and 25 of those years were attributed to advances in medicines and the treatment of disease in older people. Life is now the survival of those who live in the better conditions, rather than those who are born fitter. But challenges remain, particularly in the fight against Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Differences between Young and Old

There are many differences between the bodies of an older person and a younger person, besides the obvious outward appearance. Older people often have more than one health condition at a time, making it difficult to successfully deal with those conditions. Nothing can be treated in isolation. The older body absorbs medication differently to the younger body and it is also weaker, making it more vulnerable to the potential side effects of medication.

A Discipline in Itself

So, there is no surprise that the study of disease in the elderly has its own discipline, called Gerontology. Just as the United States has seen an increase in life expectancy, so has Europe. The ageing population is expected to increase from 84 million to 141 million by 2050. Rather than waiting for a problem to arrive on the doorstep, the European Union has established an agency dedicated to the advancement of medical care for the older generation, implementing strategies that span the creation of new medicines and treatment protocols. The goal is greater understanding of how to successfully fight conditions that affect the elderly and ultimately better care.

What Part Can the Elderly Play?

This is not a problem that can be solved in isolation. Clinical testing at the pre-licensing stage needs to include more elderly volunteers.

How Clinical Trials Work

For those interested in participating, there are two types of medical trial open to human volunteers: trials with healthy volunteers that test the effects of a drug on an organ that it is not intended to treat and trials that test medications for specific conditions.

A good example of the first trial would be a medicine that is intended to treat the liver, but the sponsor wants to see if there is any effect on the heart but not necessarily a negative effect, or what might be classed as a side effect. An example of the second would be a trial that tests a new Alzheimer’s medication and requires volunteers who have the condition.

Another important distinction is that trials requiring healthy volunteers pay an honorarium, whereas condition specific trials don’t because it is perceived that the volunteer can derive benefits from exposure to the new drug. Companies like GSK deliver both types of trial and their honorariums for trials in the UK begin at £50 and can be up to £2000 depending on the trial and how many times you volunteer.

Medical testing for healthy volunteers is open to people up to the age of 80. It is a fascinating process to see science at work and to participate in the development of drugs that could help someone you will never meet.

Guest post contributed by Sally Shaws, who writes about volunteering for paid clinical trials. You can visit GlaxoSmithKline for more information on taking part in these trials or to register as a volunteer.

Managing Meds for Patients with Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Sometimes it can seem like a cruel irony: the elderly, particularly those suffering from dementia, senility or Alzheimer’s disease, are often both most in need of medication and most likely to take those medications incorrectly. Mistakes with prescriptions can result in illness and even death, so proper med management for seniors with senility issues is of paramount importance.

Seniors constitute 12% of the population but consume around 35% of all medication. Medication-related problems (MRPs) among the general population are the fourth most costly medical expenditure- only cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s are more expensive. As seniors generally take more prescriptions than the general population, their MRP risk is even more pronounced (in fact, they’re twice as likely to suffer adverse reactions from medications). The key to preventing MPR infirmities within impaired seniors, and everyone else, is organization and knowledge.

Organization to Prevent Overdose (or Underdose)

There are a number of ways to keep organized and informed about the medications a senior struggling with a memory affliction.  Simply being organized can be incredibly helpful and, in some cases, prevent serious injury or death.

  • Pill organizers.  While always a good idea and useful to keep around, a majority of the pill organizers on the market are great for once-a-day medication consumption.  However, since many seniors take a number of medications, often from a number of different doctors and/or pharmacies, pill organizers might not be enough or simply be too basic. Most pill organizers have an AM/PM designation at best, though more elaborate organizers can be found at certain specialty retailers and online (at Amazon.com, for example).  It is best not to rely completely on these types of organizers, so one of the best recourses is to…
  • Make a detailed list. This is also always a good idea and often more important.  A list can be more helpful than an organizer for all the parties involved in the senior’s health. List what medications, supplements, and vitamins a patient is taking and what each medication and supplement is for, when they’re taking it and how often, what doctor prescribed it and what pharmacy filled it, maybe even possible interactions if you’re aware of them, refill dates if necessary, etc. A big piece of doing this successfully involves an effort to…
  • Maintain a relationship and open line of communication with all of a patient’s doctors and pharmacists and between them. Doctors and pharmacists are specially trained to be knowledgeable concerning any meds they prescribe or fill. This should make them the first line of defense against adverse interactions, mitigating uncomfortable side-effects, choosing the best form and dosage of meds, etc. The chances of a patient maintaining healthy medication habits are increased enormously when any doctor or pharmacist working with that patient is personally familiar with their meds, situation, diagnosis and anything else pertinent to their health.

Other Issues to be Aware Of

  • High risk medications. When most people think of meds with a high risk of overdose those that come to mind include narcotic painkillers, sleeping pills, benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Ativan), barbiturates, and so forth. However, those high risk meds are responsible for only 8% of accidental overdoses while more common meds taken by the elderly for conditions like heart disease or diabetes are far more likely to make their taker sick. In fact, anticoagulants or blood-thinners, oral diabetes medication, insulin, and anti-platelet prescriptions alone are responsible for about 70% of overdoses among the elderly.
  • Vaccinations. The under-vaccination of senior citizens is actually a very common problem. Often, the only vaccination commonly associated with seniors is the flu vaccine. It’s wise to keep the flu shot in mind, of course, but next time one is given talk to the providing doctor about adding a pneumonia shot. Influenza and pneumonia are responsible for more deaths among the elderly than car accidents. Like anyone else, seniors need to stay current on their tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis boosters and more than most everyone else those same seniors should be inoculated with the shingles vaccine. If the patient in question has never contracted chickenpox, a shingles vaccination against it is a must. In addition, ask a doctor if the senior in question should also seek out Hepatitis A and B, Meningitis, as well as Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines.

Jim Fox is a freelance writer who studied medicine for his undergraduate degree.  He frequently writes about topics pertaining to the medical industry, including affordable RX drugs.  When not typing the day away, he is either perfecting his wine recipes or lacing up his ice skates and heading for the nearest frozen water.

Brain Food: Eating Right to Fight Alzheimer’s

We’re all familiar with the concept of  “superfoods,” but few people actually know why some foods are so much better than others. Fewer still know that some foods have a direct effect on the brain, reducing inflammation, facilitating communication between cells, and building new neural pathways. Here are some of the best foods to keep elderly minds sharp and focused, stimulate brain activity, and fight Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

  • Concord grape juice, red wine, blackberries, and chocolate all have something in common. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants found in all three that stimulate neural activity, reduce inflammation, and increse the blood flow to the brain. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine performed a small study with 12 elderly adults suffering from memory loss. For three months, each senior was given either a glass of real concord grape juice every day or a grape-flavored drink. The researchers concluded that participants given the real grape juice showed a significant improvement in spatial memory and verbal skills. Two ounces of dark chocolate, one glass of red wine, or a cup of blackberries contains a comparable amount of polyphenols.
  • Extra virgin olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal that is known to block the development of  amyloid B-derived diffusible ligands (ADDLs), proteins directly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, loss of memory, and brain degeneration.
  • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), including salmon, sardines, and other oily fish common to cold water, are well known for lowering bad cholesterol, but scientists have recently begun to explore how DHA affects the brain and helps stop Alzheimer’s.
  • Food rich in vitamins D, E, K and folate (a B vitamin) stimulate cognitive brain functions, improve memory, and help lift the fog. Dark leafy greens, like kale, spinach, and turnip greens, are bursting with these nutrients and are a great way to improve both health and brain function. There is some controversy about whether taking vitamins offers the same benefits as getting vitamins through whole food nutrition.
  • Curry, a common spice used in Indian cooking, has a substance called curcumin, which is known to reduce inflammation and prevent the formation of beta amyloid plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s. Tumeric, the main ingredient in curry powder, is the curcumin source. Tumeric is a mild spice that can be added to soups, stews, bean and vegetable dishes to add the benefits without the spicy curry flavor that might irritate a delicate digestive system.
  • There are two common hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid plaques that build up and tau proteins that tangle in the brain and cause brain cell death. For the last couple of years, the University of California at Santa Barbara has been studying the effects of compounds found in cinnamon, proanthocyanidins and cinnamaldehyde, on tau proteins. Similar research at the UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute (NRI) is focused on cinnamon’s insulin-like function and how the reactions affect proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Cinnamon is well known in diabetic circles, but the research tying it to Alzheimer’s is in the infancy stage. Even though it’s unproven, a tasty sprinkle on toast or in oatmeal can’t hurt and can potentially help. There’s no down side.
  • A common supplement or food additive, carnosine, was studied in 2008 for its effects on another neurological disease, Parkinson’s. A team of researchers from  Illarioshkin S. Research Center of Neurology at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences in Moscow found that adding carnosine to the diets of study participants showed significant improvement of neurological symptoms. Similar results have been noted in Alzheimer studies on rats.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, and one of the most effective known treatments is exercise. The foods on this list are all healthy and highly recommended by the American Heart Association.

One note of caution: People taking chemotherapy should report all supplements and diet changes to the oncologist in charge of treatment to ensure that the efficacy of cancer treatment is not affected by the changes.

The research on diet and Alzheimer’s disease is encouraging. Future treatments for many difficult diseases and the recipe for a longer, healthier life may someday come down to a lifetime of better menu choices and a commitment to more exercise. How exciting that we can observe changes in cognitive function with something as simple and pleasurable as a glass of grape juice or grilled salmon for dinner.

 

Bio: Cindy Johnson is a freelance writer with a passion for healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Read her blog for weekly health updates. When she’s not writing, Cindy loves to hike in the mountains of North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, son, and a small assortment of dogs.