Alzheimer’s disease, also called senile dementia, is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions. In people with Alzheimer’s disease the brain cells themselves degenerate and die, causing a steady decline in memory and mental function. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases. Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning, thinking, remembering, reasoning, and behavioral abilities. Scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but it has become increasingly clear that the causes include some mix of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. [1]


Alzheimer’s disease symptoms may be hard to recognize at first. It is easy to assume that symptoms such as mild forgetfulness or an occasional loss of focus are normal signs of aging. But as the disease progresses, Alzheimer’s disease symptoms become more than “normal” changes. They become incapacitating, and dangerous. In the latter stages of disease, people with Alzheimer’s often require round-the-clock care. Common symptoms include [2]:

  • Inability to communicate with or recognize other people
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Strong feelings of paranoia and anger
  • Inability to smile
  • Inability to walk
  • Disorientation
  • Wandering

Traditional Management

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease; available treatments offer relatively small symptomatic benefit. Traditional treatments can be divided into pharmaceutical, psychosocial and caregiving. Two types of drugs are currently used to treat cognitive symptoms: [3]

Cholinesterase inhibitors. These drugs work by boosting levels of a cell-to-cell communication chemical depleted in the brain by Alzheimer’s disease. Less than half of those taking these drugs can expect to have any improvement.

Memantine (Namenda). This drug works in another brain cell communication network and slows the progression of symptoms with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. It’s sometimes used in combination with a cholinesterase inhibitor.

Adapting the living situation to the needs of a person with Alzheimer’s is an important part of any treatment plan. For someone with Alzheimer’s, establishing and strengthening routine habits and minimizing memory-demanding tasks can make life much easier.

Sadly, studies have shown that none of the currently prescribed medications appear to alter the course of Alzheimer’s dementia.

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In a patient with AD, protein deposits, called plaques, build up in the spaces between nerve cells far more rapidly than normally associated with aging. Tangles, twisted fibers that build up inside dead and dying nerve cells, also produce at a faster rate. These two occurrences tend to follow a pattern, targeting areas most critical for memory then progressively spreading to other regions. The damaged nerve cells are then unable to properly transmit electrical signals within our brain, those signals that are responsible for memories and individual thoughts.

Scientists hypothesize that stem cells have the ability to self-renew, or divide, to replenish dying tissue of specialized cell types. They are considered by some to be our own built-in repair systems that regenerate cells damaged by disease, injury, and everyday wear-and-tear. Adult stem cells that are administered to the body, appear to respond to inflammatory signals secreted by damage cells. Ultimately, it is proposed that stem cells can replenish these damaged cells.

While aging is among the greatest risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, it does not have to be a normal part of the aging process. Traditional medications show less than optimal results and there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Anecdotal reports of ALS patients treated with stem cells are filled with disappointing results to date. Single management strategies may show some initial progress, but results appear to be only transient and regress with time. Many stem cell investigators believe that multiple dosing over time may yield more satisfying and longer lasting improvement

Suggested Reading:

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet. National Institute on Aging.
  2. Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms.WebMD.
  3. Alzheimer’s disease. Mayo ClinicMayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. .
  4. Neuroscience. 2011 Oct 13;193:330-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.06.088. Epub 2011 Jul 14.
  5. Exp Neurobiol. 2014 Mar;23(1):45-52. doi: 10.5607/en.2014.23.1.45. Epub 2014 Mar 27.
  6. Adult stem cells can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. News Medical.

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Curr Stem Cell Res Ther. 2014;9(6):513-21. Review.

Stem-cell challenges in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: a long way from bench to bedside.

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Med Res Rev. 2014 Sep;34(5):957-78. doi: 10.1002/med.21309. Review.

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