Learning About Alzheimer's

On July 23, 2019 I attended a session at Bridges by Enoch in Norwalk, CT that featured Dr. Peter McAllister of NEICR speaking about the state of dementia and Alzheimer’s research and how his clinical research group was on the frontlines of trying to find effective treatments. 

It was attended by 30+ others who had an interest in understanding more about Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia and the 6th leading cause of death in the US (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet).


Dr. McAllister mentioned that it’s the only one of the leading causes of death ahead of it that is increasing versus decreasing. There are likely many contributors but one of them is simply that we are living longer than we had before and therefore we’re seeing more of the impact of a longer life on brain function. What’s important to note however is that it is not “normal” for brain function to deteriorate as we age. The majority of individuals in old age still have strong cognitive ability. But with age the chance of contracting a form of dementia like Alzheimer’s does increase. 


Some things I learned that I didn’t know before:

  • Average lifespan after diagnosis is 8 years. This is part of the reason that catching it early is difficult. Some of the signs are largely ignored early as they are not overtly obvious 

  • With this, new scanning technologies are being used to try and find the presence of dementia earlier in order to help patients change behaviors to reduce the chances of contraction or extend brain health (currently diet and exercise are the best known preventers)

  • Alzheimer’s funding is starting to increase but it hasn’t enjoyed as much prominence in the media of healthcare communities because the timeline is so long. Your life may not be “on the line” versus a cancer diagnosis.

  • Dementia treatment; no project has really been successful, but with all failures, we learn more. Things to consider, in the 1960s childhood leukemia was 95% fatal. Today it’s close to 95% survival

  • Everyone has a level of intelligence. If that level decreases then that is classified as dementia. The memory of “important” things like “who you are” represent the types of things that people forget that should be considered a warning sign that something is wrong neurologically 

  • The presence of plaques in the brain that interfere with brain function are common signs that Alzheimer’s is present. They are currently looking for treatments to help eliminating the formation of these plaques or breaks them up to remove them from the brain. But to date nothing has been fully successful

  • Some of the frustrations with clinical research revolve around this efficacy of treatments. In some anecdotal individuals improvements can be seen, but nothing yet that is significant over the placebo. Therefore, they sometimes have to stop a trial that may appear to be working for someone

  • I did not know that in these clinical studies, even the doctors don’t know who is getting the drug or placebo. They are just as blinded as the patients. It makes complete sense, but it was a surprise to me

  • There is a study that may suggest that Alzheimer’s could be a type 3 diabetes because there was a positive result with a nasal spray insulin

How do you know it’s Alzheimer’s?

  • Primary care physician right 7 out of 10 times.Not everyone is diagnosed correctly

  • Pet scans (amyloid) and a Tao pet scan (still in research phase and not available outside of research studies - which means, if you are concerned, you may want to register for a research study so you can go through a more rigorous diagnosis). Either way, don't just accept "it's normal" as a thorough diagnosis - you can ask for more out of your PCP, especially if you have valid concerns

  • Alzheimer’s starts out as memory difficulty, but then works toward judgment and then general function (Daily living activities like bathing, eating, swallowing and more can be impacted). It can be these types of things that complicate matters and lead to death along with other elements.

Currently the best form of treatment or prevention is finding meaning in life (staying active and using your brain in work, philanthropy, social, etc). Additionally, if you lead a healthier life (diet [like a Mediterranean diet with healthy fats, low refined sugars and reduced intake of processed foods], and exercise) it is also shown to help. Essentially, any risk factor for a stroke appears to exhibit for types of Alzheimer’s.


Dr. McAllister is a neurologist. At his clinic, they treat all across the neurological spectrum (migraines, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinsons, and more). He’s been involved in research for over 25 years. He liked treating patients, but LOVED treating diseases. However they are challenged to find enough patients who meet study requirements so please look them up or other clinical researchers if you have concerns. The more people that enter these studies, the more we learn about the disease and the closer we’ll be to an effective treatment.  To learn more about their clinic and what they are working on, access their website here: www.neicr.com


It’s also good to see that Bridges by Epoch in Norwalk and other facilities are offering support groups and support resources for families who are in the throes of watching loved ones deteriorate into dementia. 


Dr. McAllister will be speaking at our Caregiver & Aging Conference on Saturday September 28, 2019 at Southern Connecticut State University in the Michael J. Adanti Student Center. The conference is open to the public and free, but space is limited. To register today and save your spot click here: REGISTER. We have 14 sessions and over 20 speakers worth of content to help navigate some of life's biggest challenges that we face as we age. For more information visit our main site (www.generation-bridge.com).




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