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Planning Retirement Online

Is this the beginning
of the end of Alzheimer's?

November 2016

man sleeping

Dementia is a name for several different brain problems that all cause a loss of brain function. The conditions are all usually progressive and the problem is growing. At the moment there are over 850,000 people with dementia in the UK but numbers are set to soar as the population ages. But it also affects younger age groups, with over 40,000 people under 65 currently suffering from dementia in the UK.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting 62 per cent of people diagnosed, and until now there has been no cure. Even delaying the onset of dementia by five years would halve the number of deaths from the condition, saving 30,000 lives a year, but until now the fight to find a cure or treatment has been elusive.

This is not for lack of research. The UK’s Alzheimer’s Society alone is committed to spending at least £150 million over the next decade on dementia research; and with 7.7 million people developing dementia around the world every year; research is also going on right across the globe.

Now at last there might be serious hope. Leading pharmaceutical group Merck say a pioneering new drug verubescestat has just completed its initial testing and has shown it clears away sticky clumps of plaque in the brain. These clumps are thought to be the main factor in developing Alzheimer’s.

Initially when some of the main causes of Alzheimer’s were thought to have been identified, several new drugs were developed to try and clear away these “clumps” and clean the brain; but either they didn’t work or produced such severe side effects especially to the liver and nerves that further development was abandoned.

This latest drug seems to be safe with no severe side effects; and it does seem to work, attacking the BACE 1 enzyme linked to amyloid build-up in the brain. In the Phase 1 study of the drug, verubescestat reduced the levels of beta-amyloid in Alzheimer’s sufferers by up to 94 per cent.

Another trial also gave promising results, good enough for the drug to now be continued into Phase 3 trials. This is the first time a drug of its kind has made it to Phase 3 trials and when these are completed, in 18 months time, there should be some conclusive indications on how effective and safe it is.

Harvard Medical School’s Dennis Selkoe commented: “This is the first detailed report of what a BACE inhibitor does in humans and the good news is they didn’t see evidence so far of any of the side effects we’re concerned about with BACE inhibition.”

Merck pharmacologist Matthew Kennedy said: “This represents well over a decade of investment in this project by many, many scientists.”

Of course it will still be a while before any drug is cleared and available for general use; but with so much research going on around the world, and serious new drugs such as verubescestat now being developed and reaching testing stage, at least there is real hope for the future.

A full report is available here.


A warning has just been issued that a number of defibrillators in public places may be defective.

While this is mostly the concern of the organisations and groups which have installed them, nevertheless it made us here at Laterlife think about heart problems.

Most of us are well aware that hearts can cause all sorts of problems as we age, but often we are not sure of exactly what is happening. Two common situations we will all have heard of are heart attack and cardiac arrest. They are not the same thing.

In simple terms, a heart attack is a circulation problem and sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. Generally a heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked, while a sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly.  It often occurs when the electrical activity in the heart becomes disrupted and the heartbeat can get dangerously fast or totally lose rhythm and become chaotic. A heart attack can also cause a dangerous heart rhythm leading to cardiac arrest.

Either way, cardiac arrest is terrifying.  It means your heart stops beating properly and won’t adequately pump blood. This can lead to your brain and other vital organs becoming starved of blood and its life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients. Patients can suffer permanent damage to the brain and other organs.

So it is vital in the case of cardiac arrest to restore the heart’s rhythm as soon as possible. CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is important here, the procedure when you compress the chest in a regular manner to restore spontaneous blood circulation. CPR can keep blood flowing to your heart and brain, but in some cases defibrillation is needed to restore the heart’s normal rhythm and ultimately save the life.

Defibrillators are hugely important devices that help save thousands of lives. They provide a high energy electric shock to the heart through the chest wall of someone who is in cardiac arrest.

Many local communities have installed defibrillators in public places and trained local people in their use.  The manufacturers say a lack of training should not be a deterrent to their use; and if you come across someone who is having a cardiac arrest, the steps are to call 999, start CPR if you can, and then find out if there is a defibrillator nearby.

If there is a defibrillator nearby, once it is opened and positioned by the patient, all you have to do is follow spoken instructions. Many defibrillators also have diagrams or a screen to help people use them. Once positioned, the defibrillator detects the heart’s rhythm and will only deliver a shock if it is needed. Sometimes you need to press the shock button but some defibrillators are fully automatic and will deliver the shock themselves. The defibrillator will instruct you when to resume CPR.

There are various community training courses available, and also some very good online videos to show you what needs to be done:

British Heart Foundation: How to use a defibrillator

BBC News Health

By keeping up to date with procedures, you will feel much more confident in dealing with an emergency,  should it happen.

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