More than 5 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s and they’re not the only ones whose lives are affected by the disease. Their loved ones, the doctors that help them, and the hired caregivers and memory care workers that help take care of them all have lives that are heavily influenced by the effects of Alzheimer’s. And the incidence of the disease is only likely to grow in the years to come.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that when a disease is as common and disruptive as Alzheimer’s, it draws the interest of a lot of brilliant minds seeking to better understand it and find solutions that can help the people diagnosed with it.
As such, a lot of scientists are hard at work trying to understand the workings of Alzheimer’s disease better and find ways to fight back against its effects. One promising potential treatment that scientists have recently begun to explore is the use of brain waves.
How Brain Waves Relate to Alzheimer’s Symptoms
To understand how brain waves may play a role in treating Alzheimer’s, you first have to understand what brain waves even have to do with the disease.
Researchers have found that how quickly brain waves fire is tied to how well and actively our brain is working. When an average brain is awake but not working especially hard, the brain waves fire about 12 to 30 times a second. When the speed increases to 30 to 90 times a second, the faster brain waves are called gamma waves and are associated with the more difficult mental tasks we all tackle at different points throughout the day like using and making memories, paying attention to something, and learning.
Researchers have noticed that the gamma rays in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s are often disrupted, possibly by the plaques of protein that build up in the brain and are believed to cause the symptoms common to the disease.
The Research So Far
The scientists Hannah Jaccarino and Annabelle Singer have studied how restoring normal gamma rays in a type of mice that’s prone to Alzheimer’s affects their brains. Their research so far has shown that the gamma rays help to mobilize a type of cell called microglia that are sometimes called “janitorial cells” because they help clean the brain up. In this experiment they set up, these janitorial cells worked on ridding the brain of the harmful deposits of protein that are common in Alzheimer’s brains.
That’s potentially a big deal. It means gamma rays could possibly be used to remove (or at least reduce the instances of) the main physical component associated with the disease from the brain of Alzheimer’s patients.
What The Research Means for Patients
At this point, the studies have only been done on mice. While that gives researchers some idea of what to expect with people, it by no means assures that a similar process would work the same on human brains.
Complicating things a bit, researchers have to figure out how to apply gamma rays to human brains. Li-Huei Tsai, an MIT researcher, believes that flashing lights at the right frequency might do the trick, although it’s a theory that hasn’t been fully tested yet.
For now, any treatment related to this research is a ways away from being available to human patients. Nonetheless, as all people who have watched a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s know, any progress is meaningful. If today’s research points us in the right direction for tomorrow’s treatment, it has the potential to significantly improve the lives of many.