Suppose they gave a war on Alzheimer’s and everybody came

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 - Dave Pearson
Dave Pearson

These are boom times for clinical studies on Alzheimer’s disease, and the unending explosion owes much to the Baby Boom. An awful lot of people born between the end of World War II and the start of Beatlemania have watched as a parent, a close relative or an older friend has slowly, sometimes torturously, lost the ability to put two thoughts together. Heading toward their own sunset years, the Boomers dearly hope to avoid the same fate.

The motive is rarely rooted in pure self-interest. Like their aging or already-lost loved ones before them, most Boomers sincerely don’t want to be anyone’s burden.

In any case, the upshot is that a very determined push is on to find either a prevention or a cure—one that will help many generations to follow.

The hurricane of activity has spawned some powerful research tornadoes all around the world. It’s led to some exciting new sources of hope. And it’s prompting newly constructive thinking on how best to care for the aging. (Sooner or later, of course, that means every one of us.)

One of the most exciting recent developments is the creation of an Alzheimer’s-predictive algorithm at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. This amazing, “all-diagnostics-in” algorithm combines multiple findings on brain MRI with findings from protein analyses, genomic sequencing and other parameters.

Not only can the algorithm distinguish between healthy individuals and those with cognitive changes, but it can even distinguish between changes that add up to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) versus Alzheimer’s.

This is vitally important to care decision-makers. For, as suggested by the authors of another MRI-inclusive study, this one conducted in South Korea, older patients with amnestic MCI (main symptom: bothersome memory lapses) do better when monitored with intensive neuropsychological test batteries—while those with Alzheimer’s can be well managed with the faster and less costly Mini-Mental State Examination.

Meanwhile, researchers in the U.K. and Sweden have found that younger Alzheimer’s patients have disproportionately more tau pathology on PET-CT than older patients who have similar symptom profiles. The authors believe defective tau proteins alone can thus predict Alzheimer’s progression in early-onset cases, pointing the way to optimally appropriate care paths.

For this late Boomer, much of this hits close to home. A close relative of mine was diagnosed with amnestic MCI a few years ago after undergoing a battery of neuropsychological tests.

And a battery it was, all right. She felt bruised by the testing experience. Said the test-givers were impatient to the point of being rude. She’s resisting going back for follow-up testing, which would show whether she’s declining or stable—a crucial distinction to ensure she gets proper care either way. Equipped with some of these new findings, I just may be able to convince her to change her mind.

Besides, there are always other medical practices to size up on quality of patient experience via social media and online reviews. We “younger” generations know all about pushing hard to get things like that going.

Onward, Alzheimer-busters.