In the United States, Alzheimer’s disease affects over 5.5 million people. That number is expected to quadruple to 22 million by 2050. Over the last decade, it has remained one of the only causes of death to increase by more than 66%. Despite many medical advancements, there have not been any treatments developed for it.
“Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by insidious cognitive decline and loss of memory function.” It causes its victims to devolve into physical and emotional shells of their former selves. Often getting lost in their own rooms, forgetting their names, and acting irrationally. Those who experience it second hand watch the qualities that defined their parents and loved ones become lost to time.
In a paper published in 2004, by the University of California’s Department of Medicine, memory loss “correlates better with synapse loss than with plaques or tangles.” This kind of dysfunction is described as a contributing factor to cognitive failure in Alzheimer’s because of a loss of a protein, called drebin. According to the paper, the synapses are vulnerable to aging and oxidative stress from high dendritic energy consumption.
There may be options available for those who are predisposed to this disease, despite having no official treatments available, yet.
Two research papers were published on the effects of sub-anesthetic doses of ketamine. The first, which was published in 2018, by the Department of Anesthesiology in Hebei, China, explains that ketamine decreases the density and length of dendritic spines. The second, which was published in the same year, by the Department of Automation in Shanghai, China explains that an excessive number of active synapses over a period of time could increase the energy burden.
Understanding this, ketamine could be used to replace the more numerous, older, denser dendritic spines, with fewer, newer, leaner ones. This could act as a preventative measure to the development of memory loss from diseases like Alzheimer’s because of a reduction in metabolic energy consumption, and their relocation on the synapse.
Remarkably, ketamine boasts a number of therapeutic uses. In smaller sub-anesthetic doses, it has shown to be useful in treating psychiatric conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. It has also shown to be an effective, non-addictive alternative to opioids for pain management. Ketamine for Alzheimer’s is still very much in its infancy, though, so more research needs to be conducted to determine its full therapeutic purpose.
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