DEAR DR. MICHELLE,
There seems to be a lot in the news lately about Alzheimer’s disease. Why the current focus?
It is an exciting time in the history of Alzheimer’s diagnosis and treatment. After decades of research, the field is making notable progress. These findings and related discussions were actively presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Amsterdam this past July. Many of the more recent news stories you may have seen or heard were picked up from that conference.
As a regular attendee of this annual conference and researcher in this field for over 30 years, I join the masses in the excitement and optimism of the advancements made and celebrated most recently. For the first time ever, we have disease-modifying treatments for Alzheimer’s disease that slow the progression of the underlying disease and the related cognitive symptoms. We have numerous ways of measuring the plaques and tangles that form in Alzheimer’s to improve our diagnostic accuracy. We know much more about risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, including genetics, and how life-style factors can moderate brain health as we age.
This science, along with political advocacy, is beginning to change the landscape of clinical care. Early diagnosis is key to the success of treatment and interventions. With better diagnostic tools, doctors will be able to diagnose earlier. Disease-modifying medications may be prescribed to patients who qualify. I believe that we will see more treatments and better diagnostic tests, including blood tests, used in the clinic in the not so far off future.
We are still at the beginning of the evolution, however. The disease modifying medications have risks and are not appropriate for everyone. While they may slow the disease, they do not stop it. Additional medicines with multiple targets will be needed. The diagnostics aren’t perfect or widely available.
Fortunately, the pipeline of studies continues and brings promise for additional growth. I do hope that we use the momentum of scientific progress and media focus to encourage people to ask their doctors about early diagnosis, intervention, and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Further advancement in knowledge and treatment will require greater participation in research and in advocacy groups helping to raise awareness and influence policies about coverage. Together, we can make Alzheimer’s disease a memory.
*Michelle Papka, Ph.D. is the Founder of The Cognitive and Research Center of New Jersey (The CRCNJ) in Springfield, NJ. The mission of The CRCNJ is to provide no-cost diagnostic, treatment and supportive resources through clinical research opportunities to people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.