Stale Dogma about Detecting Alzheimer's Disease

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

Earlier today, published an article titled "Do You Really Want That Alzheimer's Test?". I see pessimistic articles like this with alarming frequency where some "expert" laments the lack of effective treatment for this disease while entirely ignoring a solid decade of evidence that early intervention and appropriate treatment can be tremendously beneficial. Here is the comment I posted at

From daily, first-hand experience, I can tell you that articles of this nature do an unintended disservice to humanity. While it is clear that treatments must get better, physicians, researchers, and the general public must all begin to divorce themselves from the stale dogma that "there is nothing you can do about Alzheimer's disease".

The biggest, and most immediately solvable, problem in treating this terrible disease is that up to 95% of patients are diagnosed in years 8, 9, and 10 of a typical 14-year disease course. This means that the patients have end-stage pathology with severe brain damage when they are first diagnosed and put on treatment. While the currently approved drugs will not reverse the progression of the disease at this late stage, they can slow its advance and afford a higher quality of life for a meaningful period of time. In those fortunate instances when patients have been diagnosed earlier, when less damage has occurred in the brain, the progression of the disease has been slowed by about 50% on average. In the best cases (but clearly not all), this can delay nursing home placement by up to several years and allow the luckier patients to live out their lives in their own home.

Although this clinical benefit (delaying progression) is not as appealing as a cure, it is still significant for patients facing end-of-life decisions. Additionally, better treatment efficacy based on more timely intervention is not the only reason why patients might "like to know" if they had Alzheimer's disease. Knowing early on gives them time to plan for the difficult period ahead and to participate in their care decisions prior to losing the ability to do so. There are also legal and financial plans to attend and, in some cases, the spiritual and philosophical preparation some choose to pursue when facing their mortality.

No one wants to see such diagnostic tests forced upon people who would prefer to remain ignorant but for the growing number who choose a proactive approach to their health, such medical clarity will be greatly beneficial. Nihilistic articles (of which there are many on this topic) tend to perpetrate the nation's sense that there is nothing we can do and no reason to know when Alzheimer's disease is present. I hope you and Dr. Smith will join the campaign to highlight the growing body of evidence that we can already help Alzheimer's patients in many ways. Acknowledging as much will not slow the research effort for a cure nor will it derail the scientific community's conviction that a better approach is needed. It may, however, begin to spur more patients and more primary care physicians to engage in the dialogue that will help us begin detecting and treating this disease at an earlier and more manageable stage.

A better understanding and more awareness of Alzheimer's related issues can impact personal health decisions and generate significant impact across a population of aging individuals. Please use the share button below to spread this educational message as widely as possible.

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