Is Dementia Reversible?

Dayna Dye

Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia. These diseases invoke dread in the bravest of us. The prospect of the loss of the memories of all that we hold dear and all that makes us who we are as individuals can be worse than the fear of death. A significant part of that fear is the knowledge that these diseases are considered, at this time, incurable.

But what if dementia is actually a reversible condition?

“We have come to fear Alzheimer’s disease as omnipotent. As impervious to any and all treatments,” writes Dale E. Bredesen, MD. “Until now. Let me say as clearly as I can. Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented, and in many cases its associated cognitive decline can be reversed.”1

Dementia Treatment

Dr. Bredesen has developed a program he calls ReCODE which addresses 36 factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

For those who are unfamiliar with Dr. Bredesen, he has held faculty positions at UCLA, UCSD and UCSF—where he was a National Institute of Health postdoctoral fellow at the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Stanley B. Prusiner, MD, who was credited for the discovery of prions, the infectious agent in “mad cow disease.” Dr. Bredesen is currently affiliated with the Buck Institute, the only research institute singularly focused on the biology of aging, which he founded in 1998.

In a preliminary study that evaluated the effectiveness of Dr. Bredesen’s treatment regimen, nine of ten patients with memory loss due to subjective cognitive impairment, amnestic mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease experienced improvement starting after 3-6 months.2 Six patients who had to quit working due to their condition were able to resume employment with better performance following treatment. The improvements observed in the study were sustained at follow-up.

“Results from the 10 patients reported here suggest that memory loss in patients with subjective cognitive impairment, mild cognitive impairment, and at least the early phase of Alzheimer's disease, may be reversed, and improvement sustained, with the therapeutic program described here,” Dr. Bredesen wrote. “This is the first such demonstration.”

Following this study, Dr. Bredesen and colleagues documented 100 case studies of men and women treated with ReCODE.3 Follow-up revealed improvement, on average, in various test scores of cognitive function that would have otherwise declined. In some cases, improvement in imaging or electrophysiology was observed.

Bredesen’s Dementia Treatment Guidelines

In addition to restorative sleep, healthy activity levels, stress management and other positive lifestyle changes, Dr. Bredesen recommends regular monitoring of a number of blood factors and a supplement regimen that includes the B complex, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K2, resveratrol, nicotinamide riboside, CDP-choline, acetyl-L-carnitine, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), PQQ and omega-3 fatty acids, and the herbs ashwagandha, Bacopa monnieri, gotu Kola, Lion’s mane and skullcap. He also recommends the herb rhodiola for those experiencing anxiety and/or stress and Tinospora cordifolia and guggul for people whose cognitive decline is associated with exposure to toxins such as mold. A trial to evaluate ReCODE that has enrolled 30 participants is in progress.

Lucidity in Dementia

A hint that dementia may be reversible can be inferred from patients who exhibit moments of lucidity, which often occurs near the end of their lives. It has often been observed by relatives or caregivers of dementia patients that these men and women will remember many things that had appeared to have been long forgotten, while speaking and acting normally.

Dementia Moments of Clarity

These moments or hours of clarity indicate that, when it comes to the brain, “all is not lost.” Although other factors in dementia patients’ day-to-day cognition are involved, this could help explain a phenomenon that can be attested to by every caregiver of “good days” experienced by those under their care.

“Paradoxical lucidity, if systematically confirmed, challenges current assumptions and highlights the possibility of network-level return of cognitive function in cases of severe dementias, which can provide insight into both underlying neurobiology and future therapeutic possibilities,” writes George A. Mashour and colleagues in Alzheimer’s & Dementia®, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Our hypothesis is that the current framework of dementia as an inexorable and irreversible process of structural neuropathology must be revised to include a reversible and functional aspect of pathophysiology, even at late stages.”4

In an accompanying editorial titled, “Lucidity in dementia: A perspective from the NIA,” Basil A. Eldadah and his National Institute on Aging colleagues narrate the history of Ignaz Semmelweis, who proposed what was at that time the revolutionary idea that handwashing could help prevent the transmission of disease.5 Rather than being lauded as a hero, Semmelweis’ hypothesis was rejected by the prevailing medical establishment. Semmelweis spent the end of his life in a psychiatric hospital where he (ironically) died of an infection.

“The story of Semmelweis is one of numerous examples from the chapters of medical history that illustrate how dominant paradigms unwittingly create barriers that hinder innovation,” Dr. Eldadah and his associates write. “While prevailing theories tend to do best at explaining averages, they can break down at the extremes. And if a theory cannot adequately explain the extremes, then either the extremes are an artifact or the theory needs a second look.”

They note that the term “paradoxical” distinguishes the phenomenon of lucidity from the day to day variations in cognitive function that are observed in dementia’s earlier stages, and reflects our current rudimentary understanding. As an example, they describe the observation of early astronomers of planetary motion which was once explained by a complex system of orbits. This early hypothesis was eventually replaced by the heliocentric model which simply and logically explained the phenomenon.

The National Institute of Aging recently announced funding opportunities for research concerning lucidity in dementia.

Is Dementia Remission Possible?

“We've assumed that advanced dementia is an irreversible neurodegenerative process with irreversible functional limitations," stated Dr. Mashour, who is a professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Director of the Center for Consciousness Science at the University of Michigan. "But if the brain is able to access some sort of functional network configuration during paradoxical lucidity, even in severe dementia, this suggests a reversible component of the disease.”

While things seem hopeless to those afflicted by dementia now, the medical news is full of promising leads. Genetic modification, the potential development of drugs whose targets in one or more dementias are being revealed on an almost daily basis, discoveries concerning the relationship of dementias with pathogens and resultant inflammation, consideration of dementia as a whole-body disorder and more make this an exciting time in the field of geriatric neurology.

Believing that something is possible is a major step toward achieving a goal. With increased research efforts, medical science will have a greater understanding of dementia and we may begin to witness individuals who live to tell us how they beat it.

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on www.lifeextension.com , and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.

References

  1. Bredesen DE. The End of Alzheimer’s. New York: Avery. 2017. Print.
  2. Bredesen DE. Aging (Albany NY). 2014 Sep;6(9):707-17.
  3. Bredesen DE et al. J Alzheimers Dis Parkinsonism. 2018 Oct 19;8:450.
  4. Mashour GA et al. Alzheimers Dement. 2019 Aug;15(8):1107-1114.
  5. Eldadah BA et al. Alzheimers Dement. 2019 Aug;15(8):1104-1106.

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