PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that affects millions of Americans, and while there is no cure, new research is happening every day.

And today, there is some news to report.

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1. A drug being studied to see if it can slow the decline in thinking for people with mild disease could work if taken early enough.

“It’s a disease that probably develops a long time before people really even know they have it,” says Dr. Carol Schramke, a neuropsychologist at Allegheny General Hospital.

Among the 1,300 people in the study, the ones getting active drug did two points better on mental testing than those getting placebo. This new medicine targets clumps of proteins that accumulate in the brains of people with the disease, unlike current options which target certain brain chemicals and receptors.

“Right now, all we have are medicines that slow things down, and not really slowing it down all that much,” says Dr. Schramke. “It does seem like it’s a multifactorial process.”

Other similar drugs are being tested by other companies, but the results haven’t shown a measurable impact, and one has a side effect of fluid building up in the brain. Researchers are exploring whether higher doses might work better.

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2. Women worsen twice as fast as men with Alzheimer’s disease. And living longer, education levels, and genetics don’t explain the pattern.

On specialized brain scans, women had more clumps of the sticky brain protein that come with the illness. Also, general anesthesia can be associated with lasting thinking problems afterward, especially in women.

The thought is perhaps inflammation plays a role, as inflammatory disorders are more common in women.

“Things are all pretty complicated when you talk about hormones and inflammation processes, and one thing that increases your risk of one disease might decrease your risk of another, so trying to figure out what’s the thing you’re trying to target is complicated,” says Dr. Schramke.

Factors such as hormones, lack of sleep, and other events surrounding menopause are possibilities, but it doesn’t explain why women go through menopause and don’t develop the disease. This suggests the reasons may not be so simple.

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Dr. Maria Simbra