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Experts project that over the next 35 years 13 million people in the United States and nearly 200 million people around the world will develop Alzheimer's disease. But a small-scale project suggests that Alzheimer's may be curable in its early stages.

In the United States, Alzheimer's disease has become the third leading cause of death, just behind heart disease and cancer. A woman's chances of developing Alzheimer's disease are now greater than her chances of developing cancer. Alzheimer's disease inevitably leads to death, but only after years of increasing disability. Alzheimer's disease alone portends decimation of the United States Medicare budget as soon as 2050.

Treatments for Alzheimer's disease have been mostly disappointing. There is no magic bullet, no single pill that stops or even reliably slows the course of Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal lobar degeneration, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Remissions and reversals of Alzheimer's disease are almost unheard of, but Dr. Dale Bredesen of the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research for the Department of Neurology at the University of California at Los Angeles reports nine exceptions to the rule. A tenth patient who was started on treatment probably too late could not be helped, but a combination of interventions in Dr. Bredesen's care seemed induce remission in five others.

What kinds of patients got better in Dr. Bredesen's program? Here are a few.

  • A 67-year-old woman who still enjoyed her job as an analyst found that she had memory loss that was a lot more than just being "senile." She couldn't not remember what she had read by the time she got to the bottom of a page. She began to confuse the names of her pets. She couldn't remember where to take the exit on her drive home from work. She could not find light switches in the house where she had lived for many years. After three months on the first therapeutic system described below, she, in the words of the doctor "was able to navigate without problems, remember telephone numbers without difficulty, prepare reports and do all of her work without difficulty, read and retain information, and, overall, she became asymptomatic. She noted that her memory was now better than it had been in many years." Two and one-half years later, when her doctor's report was being written, she was still doing well.

  • A 55-year-old attorney experienced progressively worse memory loss after her 50th birthday. She would leave items cooking on the stove when she left the house. She would forget meetings, and schedule multiple meetings at the same time. She tried to cope with her clients by using her iPad to take copious notes, but then she would forget the password to her iPad. After five months on the second program described on the next page of this article, she was able to stop using her iPad to take notes but still remembered what her clients told her, started taking Spanish lessons, and gained certification in a new legal specialty.

  • A 69 year-old businessman had been suffering progressive memory loss attributed to early-onset Alzheimer's for 11 years. Brain scans had already shown changes characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. He could not remember faces, and he could not function at work. After six months on his own individualized treatment program, also described on the next page, he was able to function normally at work, and even lost 10 pounds.

Now let's take a look at what worked for these three very fortunate people.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Dale E. Bredesen. Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic program. Aging (Albany NY). 2014 Sep
  • 6(9): 707–717. Published online 2014 Sep 27. doi: 10.18632/aging.100690.
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