Race is on to find treatments for Alzheimer's

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Researchers are looking for new ways to treat Alzheimer's. Current available drugs mask the symptoms, but don't take care of the underlying disease.

We are living longer – that’s a fact; but the race is on as disease associated with age, including Alzheimer's, also grows in numbers.

Gender, genetics and lifestyle all factor into your risk of Alzheimer's disease, but there is one thing that increases your chances. “The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is TMB…too many birthdays. It doubles in prevelance every five years,” says geriatrician Dr. Bruce Robinson of the Memory Disorder Clinic at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

A lack of B-12 can cause dementia, says Dr. Robinson. He gives B-12 to those deficient patients. “It stops the degenerative process in the nervous system that can cause dementia and peripheral nerve dysfunction.”

Unfortunately, he says, that’s maybe one patient in two hundred with brain failure. “Often times we test people in screening tests that have mild symptoms of memory or thinking problems.”

Kathleen Houseweart, also of the geriatrics department of SMH, says most of the time this isn't a sign of serious disease. “It can be an effect of medication, it can be a thyroid problem, a vitamin deficiency, sometimes depression really can affect the way you think and the way you perceive your thinking.”

The two classes of Alzheimer's drugs available are not a cure, but aim to slow progression and treat symptoms. “The cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine, those drugs basically don't protect the brain cells, they make each remaining brain cell work a little better.”

The Roskamp Institute in Sarasota, a scientific biomedical research center, conducts clinical studies on Alzheimer's disease. “There's a lot of interesting, new research going on, including looking more at amaloid, trying to remove amaloid, trying to splice up tau,” says neurologist Dr. Andrew Keegan.  He says amaloid and tau are proteins that they think are dangerous and bad for the brain. “We are getting further into the details of actually pulling or removing them.”

Dr. Keegan says the hope is really to capture people right before, or right at the beginning of disease so it will halt or potentially even reverse the disease.