How to Read the News: Part 5 of 5

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

The purpose of the Brain Today blog is to distill the daily news about brain health and help the public understand the essential meaning of each article. Through time however, I have found myself clarifying the same themes over and over again. Five of these themes are explored in this five-part series “How to Read the News About Alzheimer’s and Dementia”.

How to Read the News About Alzheimer’s and Dementia - Part 5 “No Cure” is not Nearly as Bad as it Sounds

For some reason, journalists feel compelled to point out the fact that Alzheimer’s has no cure. The mere mention of this basic truth tends to cast a pall over the topic and suggests a direness that is not necessary. Diabetes has no cure; hypertension has no cure; multiple sclerosis has no cure; yet all of those diseases are reported in the press with optimism about treatment that never seems to follow Alzheimer’s disease.

I concede that available treatment for Alzheimer’s disease generally yields only modest effects and sometimes none at all. However, some patients respond quite well to treatment and physicians have no way of distinguishing responders from non-responders ahead of time. For this reason, it makes sense to get all AD patients on treatment as early as possible to optimize treatment efficacy for all.

Also, the realm of treatment goes beyond the pharmaceutical arena. Solid research shows that physical activity, a good diet, social engagement, an educated caregiver, intellectual stimulation, and perhaps certain supplements are components of a robust treatment plan that can slow progression of symptoms in many patients. Reading that a single component of treatment, say a certain drug, has an unimpressive impact on disease progression is not enough to conclude that treatment is worthless.

Finally, a major barrier to effective treatment is that we generally fail to diagnose AD in a timely manner. Most patients are diagnosed after several years of symptoms when significant brain damage has already occurred and treatment is unlikely to help. Certainly we cannot cure the disease at that late stage but an earlier intervention might delay it long enough to prevent the patient from becoming demented. New drugs in the FDA approval pipeline might halt it all together.

The bottom line is that stating, “AD has no cure”, obscures the fact that it can be treated with some degree of success, for many people, especially when diagnosed in an early stage. Many diseases have no known cure but we manage them in the medical system with a sense of purpose and optimism. We need to approach AD in a similar manner.

Here are the links to each other part of this series:
Part 1 of 5: Be Aware of the Author's Definition of AD
Part 2 of 5: Don't be Mislead by Data on Treatment Efficacy
Part 3 of 5: Common Assertions about Diagnostic Accuracy Hide Truth
Part 4 of 5: The Term "Dementia" Cannot be Interpreted Loosely

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