Hormone Therapy for Alzheimer's Disease Studied

Researchers at the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center in Fort Worth are finding value in a therapy previously dismissed as a way to treat Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's affects 340,000 people in Texas and costs $172 billion to treat each year in the United States. As the U.S. population ages those numbers are expected to increase, with costs hitting $1 trillion by 2050.

At the Center for BioHealth at UNTHSC, researchers are finding that hormone therapies may be beneficial to some female Alzheimer's patients.

Hormone therapy was largely dismissed following the results of the 2002 Women's Health Initiative study.

But Dr. Meharvan "Sonny" Singh said that while hormones may not work for every patient, they shouldn't be dismissed as a tool that can help some patients.

"These hormones may in fact be a viable treatment option for staving off the disease, reducing the risk and addressing the various burdens associated with Alzheimer's disease," he said.

Hormones such as progesterone, testosterone and estrogen may not be the end-all to Alzheimer's disease, but because it is so complicated, they could be helpful in combating it.

"Alzheimer's is multifaceted," Singh said. "Hormones, we believe, are one viable option to address Alzheimer's disease. We understand that there are important caveats to considers. We recognize that it may not be appropriate for all women. We have to consider the individual as we move forward and treat it."

Singh said studies such as WHI that show limited results in patients and dismiss potential avenues as not the way to go.

He said researchers should instead focus on why such a treatment worked for a few and see if there is a potential benefit to be explored with those patients.

That's what researchers are doing and finding with hormone therapy.

"Hormones aren't bad for all women, under all conditions," Singh said. "We shouldn't be in the business of robbing women of options. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone are viable options for a subset of women."

For families and patients living with Alzheimer's disease, any positive step toward a cure is a good one.

"I hope it's in time to help my mom, but if not, I believe they'll find a cure some day," said Diane Osmar.

Her mother, who has the disease, lives with her. Her grandmother also had the disease.

Singh cautions that hormone therapy may not be a cure in itself but could be part of treatment to help the brain fight off the disease. He said if the center's research does not prove it a viable option, then so be it. But it should be more thoroughly researched at the very least, Singh said.

Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

The Alzheimer's Association's North Central Texas Chapter serves 40 counties and provides assistance to patients and caregivers. There are 14,000 to 15,000 people with the disease in Tarrant County alone.

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