Are We Getting Closer To A Cheap, Simple Alzheimer’s Test? What Would It Mean?

Have you seen the stories about new tests for Alzheimer’s Disease that supposedly are just around the corner? The claims: A simple blood test, an eye test, even a smell test that could show that you are at high risk for Alzheimer’s decades before you develop symptoms. They are promising, scary, and–so far–premature.

Sadly, we’ve seen this movie before. Like most Alzheimer’s-related science, there turns out to much less to these stories than their promoters claim. For years, we’ve heard about the drug cures, or the brain-training products, diets, or exercise programs that can delay dementia. None have panned out. And it is far too early to know if cheap, accurate, and non-invasive early testing will either.

Getting Real About An Alzheimer’s Cure

For decades, people have been hoping for the magic bullet that will prevent, cure, or even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementias. Yet, despite small hints of progress– and billions of dollars in research–there is no drug, and no app or game, that can successfully treat these diseases.

This year, results of these efforts have been decidedly mixed. In the past month, the clinical trial of one highly-touted anti-Alzheimer’s drug failed, the Food & Drug Administration put research on two others on a fast-track review process, and the Federal Trade Commission prepared to send out company-funded rebates to customers who had been duped by a popular brain-training product aimed in part at slowing cognitive decline.

Should Drugmakers Be Allowed To Avoid Taxes On Their Profits From An Alzheimer’s Drug?

In one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in a long time, two congressmen have introduced a bill to make profits from the sale of certain anti-Alzheimer’s drugs tax free for seven years.  The measure, sponsored by representatives Patrick Murphy (D-FL) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), may be well-intentioned, but it would provide a multi-billion dollar windfall to pharmaceutical companies. There is no evidence it would improve the nation’s overall health and it could very well harm it.

Congress OK’s Big Boost In Alzheimer’s Research But Offers Little To Help Those Who Already Have The Disease

Just before leaving town for the year, Congress passed a budget that increased funding for Alzheimer’s research by 60 percent, but, as usual, provided little new money for programs that help those who have the disease, other frail elders, or their caregivers. Over the past six years, funding for most of these much-needed programs has not even kept up with inflation, much less matched  increases in the population of older adults.

Listen to the Cry of a Family Caregiver

I recently received a letter from a caregiver in California, expressing her frustration at the lack of support for family members who sacrifice so much to help loved ones. This is a lightly edited version of what she wrote:

I read your story on the difficulties of caring for a family member with dementia and think you really have the problem in focus: Although Alzheimer’s Disease research gets funding, the funding is NOT for the caregiver–save for tip sheets, training programs, support groups, and the advice to care for yourself first. There is no direct support or financial aid to help pay the bills.

The Challenges Of Caring For A Loved One With Dementia

Family caregivers help loved ones suffering from many illnesses, from heart disease to severe arthritis. But a new study shows that one condition—dementia—places an outsized burden on those family members. They spend more hours, do more difficult work, and provide assistance for more years than family members caring for older adults without memory loss.

An article in the journal Health Affairs reports that while people with dementia account for only about 10 percent of older adults living at home or in residential care, 41 percent of family caregiving hours are spent assisting loved ones with Alzheimer’s and similar diseases.

A Provocative New Way To Think About Dementia

Just about everything you think you know about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is wrong. And because the conventional wisdom is so off-track, so are the ways we—both family members and professionals– respond to those with dementia.

That’s Dr. G. Allen Power’s provocative message. He wants us to stop thinking that people with dementia are victims of a terrible debilitating disease that destroys their memory and perception. Instead, Power argues, dementia is “a shift in the way a person experiences the world.”

We Are A Long Way From An Alzheimer’s Cure

Two take-aways from the recently concluded Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen: First, after years of research, we still know remarkably little about what causes dementia or how to prevent or delay it. Second, the dementia establishment, including the Alzheimer’s Association and the White House’s National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, is so focused on a cure that it pays too little attention to the immediate needs of those who already have dementia and those caring for them.

The conference was filled with academic papers based on small, preliminary studies. Researchers are testing every possible variable in older people’s lives to determine if it could be the key to dementia. And the results were all over the place.

How A New Alzheimer’s Test Could Kill Long-Term Care Insurance—Or Make It Cheaper

A team of researchers at Georgetown University and six other medical centers has developed a simple blood test  they say can predict, with 90 percent accuracy, whether an individual will develop Alzheimer’s Disease within 2-3 years.  If it works as advertised, such a test could have a profound impact on the long-term care insurance market.

The study results, published in the journal Nature Medicine, are very preliminary. If the test works as hoped, it has enormous potential benefits, including the ability to advance efforts to find a treatment for the disease. If it makes early intervention possible, this test could dramatically reduce long-term care costs.

Dementia Patients Still Getting Dangerous Antipsychotic Drugs In Nursing Homes

More than one out of every five nursing home residents is still being given powerful antipsychotic drugs despite a growing consensus that they are inappropriate and often dangerous. These drugs frequently are given to “calm” dementia patients even though many are approved only for the treatment of diseases such as schizophrenia.

Despite a federal initiative, a $2.2 billion legal settlement by a major drugmaker earlier this month, and the support of many nursing home and consumer organizations, it has been extremely difficult to reduce the overuse of these drugs.