For five years, the 58-year-old women diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease had experienced slipping mental abilities, a decline that was beginning to accelerate. “Think of it like a straightjacket that gets tighter and tighter”, said Molly Fogel, director of education and social service for the Alzheimers’s Foundation of America.
But for this particular patient, one of 5.7 million Americans who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, the straightjacket is looser following treatment with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Dr. Paul Harch, a clinical professor and director of hyperbaric medicine at the LSU Health New Orleans School of medicine, and Dr. Edward Fogarty, of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, have outlined their hopeful case in a report published in the peer-reviewed journal Medical Gas Research. After 66 days of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the women regained some of what the disease had stolen from her. Her memory and concentration improved, as did her ability to do crossword puzzles and use the computer. But the case study goes beyond what the patient reported about her symptoms or her performance on tests, like drawing the face of a clock. The study shows a visible improvement of her brain itself on PET scans taken before and after treatment.
The results are images the Hatch said a third-grader could look at and say: “That patient looks better” “We demonstrated the largest improvements in brain metabolism of any therapy for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Hatch, who described the metabolism as the gas that makes an engine go. The PET scans taken a month after the treatment showed global improvement in brain metabolism of 6.5 % to 38% according to the study.
HBOT is this patient may be the first treatment not only to halt but temporarily reverse disease progression in Alzheimers’s disease, ” Hatch said. That would be a significant development for a disease that is considered irreversible. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, Harch said, the negative consequences of their excesses in earlier decades, including alcohol and drug abuse, will make cognitive decline faster. “The load of toxins, food additives, pesticides in chemicals…all take a toll,” he said.
To Harch, Alzheimer’s is an injury to the brain, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat wounds anywhere in the body, including the brain. He has treated stroke victims, patients suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder and those with concussions as well as Alzheimer’s patients.
The women in the case study are the first in a series of 11 Alzheimer’s patients whose improvement has been documented with PET scans.
Harch has also treated near-drowning victims, including a toddler who fell into her family’s backyard pool. In that case, he was able to show a reversal of severe brain damage, and actual regrowth of brain tissue, after hyperbaric treatment. The child, who doctors had said would never walk or talk again, now is doing both.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment puts patients in a chamber where they breathe 100 percent oxygen under increased atmospheric pressure. The increased pressure and oxygen turn on genes for growth and repair hormones and inhibit those that cause an inflammatory response and cell death, Harch said.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy reduces the burden put on the brain by the protein plaques and tangles. But Harch said it targets all four pathological processes that have been identified in Alzheimer’s patients, including microcirculation and dysfunction of the mitochondria, which provide the chemical energy for cells to live.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It disconnects those who have it from themselves and their environment, Fogal said. People with Alzheimer’s can find themselves overwhelmed simply by all the items in a bathroom or a closet. After 21 treatments, the patient in Harch’s study reported an increase in her energy and activity level, as well as an improved mood. She could draw the face of a clock correctly, perform daily activities and work crossword puzzles.
After 40 treatments, she had increased memory and concentration, according to the report. She slept better and had a better appetite. She also felt less disorientation and frustration, with more good days than bad. The study notes that she had a recurrence in her symptoms after the treatment stopped, but she was then retreated over 20 months and her symptoms stabilized. ” I talked to her and her husband the other day,” Harch said. “She’s hanging in there, doing fairly well.”
The results of the study suggest that Alzheimer’s can be treated in the long term with hyperbaric oxygen therapy along with drugs, Harch said. The challenge now is to inform doctors and the public overcomes what he calls a misunderstanding of the science behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which he describes as gene therapy. “Medicine is so pathetically slow,” Harch said. “Now the science is out, and we need to inform doctors and change their perception.”