Now, researchers are looking at a high-powered prescription shake to ease the symptoms.
At 93, Teresa Alfonzo has seen and done a lot. But because of a devastating diagnosis 10 years ago, she's now fighting to keep her most precious possession -- her memories. "We started noticing she couldn't take care of herself," Rafael Alfonzo, Teresa's son, told Action News.
The Alfonzo family one of 35 million families dealing with the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease. A few months ago, Teresa's ability to remember the most basic skills started to go. She couldn't even draw a clock.
"There was a lot of resistance. I don't understand," Margaret Alfonzo, Teresa's daughter, said.
That's when they decided to try something new. Teresa started on Axona, a medical shake regulated by the FDA. It's like an energy drink for the brain.
"It basically gives the brain an alternative food source," Richard S. Isaacson, M.D., an associate professor of clinical neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
"It's a powder, so they mix it with usually a high protein drink, usually a milkshake or boost, and they drink it right after breakfast," Susan Steen, M.D., a neurologist at South Tampa Memory center, said.
Alzheimer's patients lose the ability to use glucose in the blood. Two hours after drinking Axona, it's converted into ketone bodies that circulate to the brain and produce energy.
"Ketone bodies are the only things aside from sugar your brain can use as food." richard s. isaacson, md
In a 90-day, double blind study of 152 Alzheimer's patients, 77 took Axona. 45 percent of them showed signs of improvement after 45 days. While it doesn't work for everyone, doctor Richard Isaacson says it's worth a shot.
"You have at least a 40 to 45 percent chance of having this medical food work, in my opinion, 40 percent is a lot higher than zero," Dr. Isaacson said.
After three months on Axona, Teresa wa able to draw a clock.
"It's a blessing really. It's a huge progress," Margaret said.
Axona is a prescription medical food. The FDA does not approve medical foods, but they do regulate them. It costs 70 dollars to 90 dollars for a 30-day supply. Doctor Isaacson says a genetic test can actually help figure out if Axona will work on patients. Axona's website says the side effects include mild stomach aches and diarrhea.
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