Brain Trust A breakthrough program gives new hope to cognitive-impairment sufferers
A breakthrough program that focuses on an overlooked gene gives new hope for early Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment sufferers Judy Gerstel reports
MEND, A PROGRAM for reversing memory loss is so highly effective that positive results have, so far, been sustained for up to two years or more, and some patients have even been able to return to work. This groundbreaking study of 10 Californians with early Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by aging expert Dr. Dale Bredesen suggested that the cognitive decline could be reversed with a personalized, comprehensive treatment targeting as many as 36 different health issues, deficiencies and treatments. The 36-point program, coined MEND (Metabolic Enhancement for Neurodegeneration), included medication, dietary changes, vitamin supplements, brain stimulation and exercise.
The surprising results were published in the journal Aging: “Patients who had had to discontinue work were able to return to work, and those struggling at work were able to improve their performance. The patients, their spouses, and their co-workers all reported clear improvements. The magnitude of the improvement is unprecedented … these results have far-reaching implications for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment.” It is noteworthy that these patients met criteria for Alzheimer’s disease or MCI prior to treatment, but failed to meet criteria for either Alzheimer’s disease or MCI following treatment.
Though the number of participants in this study is small, results are significant, given that all 10 patients carried one or two copies of a form of the gene APOE4, which is implicated in about 65 per cent of all Alzheimer’s cases. People are not typically tested for this gene because there were no effective treatments. However, these study results suggest that it may be valuable to test for the gene so people can begin a program to avoid cognitive decline.
Bredesen’s program, now known as the Bredesen Protocol, in association with MPI Cognition ( mpi cognition.com), will be offering intensive workshops and programs for patients and currently trains practitioners. There are six physicians in Canada who offer the Bredesen Protocol, including Dr. Jan Venter in Vancouver. “I’ve noticed remarkable transformation in my own patients who follow the protocol closely – the full spectrum from complete reversal to halting of fast decline,” says Venter. “It does, however, take a fully motivated patient with a supportive family to adhere to the personalized protocol.”
Here are four among the 10 case studies in the published work:
1 CASE STUDIES
Over a period of two years, a 66-year-old man was having what he described as “senior moments” (for example, forgetting where his keys were or forgetting appointments) and difficulty performing his work (both parents had a history of dementia). An MRI showed his hippocampus had been shrinking and was now at only 17th percentile for his age. He was diagnosed with MCI and began the MEND program. After three months, his wife reported his memory had improved, and he noted his work came more easily to him. However, after five months, he discontinued the majority of the program for three weeks. His wife came home to find his car in the driveway, idling with the keys in the ignition, while he was inside the house, working and unaware that he had left the car in the driveway. He re-initiated the program and had no further such episodes. After 10 months on the program, a follow-up MRI showed an increase in hippocampal volume from the 17th percentile to the 75th percentile.
A woman late in her fifth decade began to note episodes of forgetfulness, such as returning home from shopping without her purchases. She placed household items in the wrong locations repeatedly and frequently failed to recognize familiar faces. She had difficulty remembering which side of the road to drive on. A cousin had also developed Alzheimer’s disease in his fifth decade. Online cognitive evaluation showed her to be at the 35th percentile for her age, despite her having been an excellent student earlier in her life. She began various parts of the MEND protocol and added more features over several months. She began to note improvement, and her online cognitive evaluation improved to the 98th percentile, where it has remained.
A man in his late 60s, whose long-term memory was at the third percentile for his age, was on the verge of closing down his business at the start of the study as he could no longer function sufficiently. After six months of treatment, however, he was able to memorize his work schedule and recognize the faces of co-workers. After 22 months, his long-term memory had improved to the 84th percentile and he was able to continue his business.
A 49-year-old woman had progressive difficulty with finding words and her vocabulary had become more limited. She also began to feel unsure about navigating while driving. She had difficulty with recognizing faces and with remembering scheduled events. She also noted that her clarity and sharpness were reduced and she had difficulty with complex conversations and understanding what she was reading. She lost her ability to speak two foreign languages. Her family history was positive for Alzheimer’s disease. She began the MEND program and, over the next several months, she noted a clear improvement in recall, reading, navigating, vocabulary, mental clarity and facial recognition. Her foreign language abilities returned. Nine months after her initial neuropsychological testing, the testing was repeated at the same university site, and she was told that she no longer showed evidence of cognitive decline.