Dubai: Marked by memory loss and cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s is a dreaded progressive disease. Ahead of World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21, a leading researcher has however supplied hope that the condition can be kept at bay, or even reversed, with early action.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) has in fact shown that it can reverse early indicators that lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, said Dr Shai Efrati, chair of Aviv Clinic’s medical advisory board.
“The important thing, however, is to start the treatment early, when a patient is diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Patients should treat their brain just like other organs, and have cognitive function evaluated once they turn 50 years old. A full neuro-cognitive evaluation can help determine what kind of treatment is required, including HBOT,” Dr Efrati told Gulf News.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and at its advanced stages, patients are unable to carry out simple tasks. On average, the condition is diagnosed after the age of 60 years.
Dr Efrati is himself involved in the study, published earlier this month, about the proposed effectiveness of HBOT as a potential treatment to reverse Alzheimer’s and dementia. HBOT is a non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive method that administers patients with a 100 per cent pure oxygen in a pressurised environment. It is already used to speed up the healing of carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, stubborn wounds, and infections in which tissues are starved for oxygen.
Combatting amyloid plaque
Dr Efrati explained that HBOT works on the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s by combatting the development of amyloid plaque, aggregates of mis-folded proteins that form in the spaces between nerve cells. This amyloid plaque has often been thought to be the cause of Alzheimer’s, but is most likely a symptom of the condition.
“In Alzheimer’s patients, we see the occlusion of blood vessels, which leads to a lack of oxygen in the brain tissue or hypoxic ischemic damage, followed by inflammation and the accumulation of amyloid plaque. The process of occlusion actually starts with damage to the microvascular regions of the brain. Through the repeated sessions of HBOT – 60 in all– the supply of oxygen to blood cells is increased by up to 23 per cent. Patients treated with it have even developed new vessels that bypass the occluded blood vessels,” he said.
During the treatment, oxygen levels are fluctuated in a specific protocol. The therapy has proven effective in mice, which were chosen to be able to better study the effect on the brain. Six human patients with mild cognitive impairment are also being studied, and have shown similar improvements from receiving HBOT.
This landmark study, published in ‘Aging’ on September 9, is part of an ongoing program researching age-related cognitive decline. The study is conducted by the Sagol School of Neuroscience in Tel Aviv, of which Dr Efrati is a director, and Tel Aviv University. It marks the first time that HBOT —a non-pharmaceutical method—has proven effective in reversing the main activators and early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
“By treating vascular dysfunction, we’re mapping out the path toward Alzheimer’s prevention. More research is underway to further demonstrate how HBOT can improve cognitive function and become an influential tool in the imperative fight against the disease,” Dr Efrati said.
As countries continue to witness a change in their demographics due to increasing life expectancy, the number of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s is likely to increase to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.T he World Health Organisation in fact estimates that from 2000 to 2050, Alzheimer’s among the elderly in Arab countries is set to rise by four to five percent.
While the population in the Gulf countries is still fairly young, more people are likely to present with the condition as people live longer lives, Dr Efrati said.
He also believes that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is underreported in the region, often because families care for elderly members on their own and include cognitive decline as part of the regular signs of aging.
Aviv Clinics has recently opened a branch in Dubai that offers the same HBOT protocol used in the study, and it also allows patients to undergo a full neuro-cognitive evaluation. In addition, before starting any treatment, clients have a comprehensive three-day assessment, including a detailed brain and physical performance analysis, along their cellular biomarkers and genetic testing, which provides baseline metrics for tracking the clients’ physiological and cognitive improvements as they go through the treatment programme.
“Using HBOT is equivalent to being 10 metres under water, breathing pure oxygen. This triggers biological processes that improve brain and body performance. Through our treatment, we aim to unlock the power of oxygen to improve brain performance for life,” the Clinic says.
“It is important, however, to undertake the treatment before the actual development of Alzheimer’s, at a time when the patient is experiencing mild cognitive impairment,” Dr Efrati said.