Can low dose radiation stimulate improvement in patients with Alzheimer Disease?

Many people have a strong fear of contracting “the big-C.” Though I share that concern based on my personal observation of too many loved ones who lost their battle with cancer, my personal nightmare disease is Alzheimer’s. It’s difficult as someone who thoroughly enjoys challenging mental activity to imagine the experience of slowly losing my mind.

Unfortunately, I’ve watched too many people go through that exceedingly frustrating experience. I’ve been one of the affected family members.

I was encouraged, therefore, by reading Treatment of Alzheimer Disease With CT Scans: A Case Report, by Cuttler et. al. The paper documents the positive outcome experienced by a patient with an advanced case of AD (Alzheimer Disease) after receiving a series of CT (computed tomography) scans, each of which deposited approximately 40 mGy (40 mSv or 4 Rem) to her brain.

Here are a few selected quotes from the paper.

The patient is 81 years of age. She began to exhibit symptoms of dementia about 10 years ago, when her illness was diagnosed as the onset of AD. Her disease had progressed gradually to the final stages of advanced AD. The patient had been in hospice care for several months, since April 8, 2015. Hospice care is allowed only if life expectancy is less than 6 months. A neuropsychologist examined her on May 21 and found her to be completely nonresponsive. The patient would frequently refuse her medications and was almost totally noncommunicative. She would only rarely utter a single word and that word would not be appropriate. She was almost immobile; she had not attempted to rise from her wheelchair in months.

Her spouse was aware that low doses of ionizing radiation generally stimulate a patient’s protection systems against diseases and age-related deterioration.9 He requested her physician to prescribe a standard CT scan to determine any anatomical changes that have occurred and to stimulate neuroprotective systems. Two scans were carried out on July 23, 2015. Two days later, her caregiver, who was unaware of this radiation treatment, reported a noticeable improvement. The caregiver was quoted as saying “She is doing so well that it is amazing. I have never seen someone improve this much. She wanted to get up and walk. She was talking some, with more sense, and she was feeding herself again.”

Another CT scan was administered on August 20, and patient’s condition continued to improve. During the week of September 14, the following behaviors were observed:

  • A sign of old memory return was seen when she called her daughter’s old roommate by name and then said “roommate.”
  • An improvement in motor function was seen when, in an exercise group, the patient lifted her leg and did several head turns in phase with the group.
  • The patient often talked in 3- to 5-word sentences as well as shorter responses, such as “yes, no, maybe, and so on” Whatever her verbal response, it almost always seemed appropriate.

The patient’s improvement following these CT scans was being noticed by all of her rotating caregivers, by her 2 personal caregivers, by all family members, and by visiting friends. Slow but steady improvement continued for about another 3½ weeks.

There is adequate acknowledgement in the paper that results for a single individual, while interesting and exciting, must be confirmed with properly designed studies. As one step in the process of enabling those studies to be undertaken, the paper recommends investing the time required to prepare a compelling ethics case supporting the value of conducting the treatments on people suffering from an untreatable illness.

Even under the assumption that all radiation carries some risk, the benefits would significantly outweigh the potential harm. Someone old enough to be suffering from AD is too close to death to have time remaining on earth to develop any post-treatment malignacies.

The specific story related in the case report includes a cautionary aspect as well.

An additional CT scan was given on October 1. Almost immediately, a significant setback was observed with an estimated loss of about 80% of the gain. This was very discouraging initially, but a slow recovery of cognitive ability began again. A neuropsychologist examined the patient on October 28 and indicated that she was able to give some simple verbal responses, which reflected some minimal improvement from the May 21 examination by the same doctor.

The patient’s slow progress continued until November 20, when she was judged to be no longer eligible for the hospice care that had begun on April 8.

The full text of the paper, with references, is available in an open access format.

This experience cries for follow-up investigation. I’m excited about the possible positive effects on the lives of the patients and their families.

Update (April 10, 2016) The paper’s lead author, Dr. Jerry Cuttler, visited the comment section yesterday. He described the current status of additional study. His comment include this important information.

The patient was discharged by the hospice to a mental care home. Her condition continues to improve.

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