Cedars-Sinai has launched the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program to help identify patients at risk of developing the neurological disorder and to reduce the impact on those diagnosed with the condition.
The programme represents a concerted effort by clinicians, researchers, patients, families, caregivers and community agencies to address an approaching “tsunami” of Alzheimer’s care. Medical authorities expect the number of cases nationally to triple by 2050, costing more than US$1tn.
“We know that we can have a major impact on this disease if we take bold action,” says Dean Sherzai, director of the programme. “If Alzheimer’s is detected early enough, we can take steps to slow or even prevent its progression.”
Sherzai said the first goal of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program will be to identify patients in the early stages of the disease when interventions and treatments can have the biggest impact. The second goal will be to provide patients and families with comprehensive, long-term care and education in a well-established centre that combines research and clinical services with a network of support in the community.
Cedars-Sinai’s comprehensive approach eventually may serve as a model that can be implemented elsewhere, with interventions, treatments and care plans built around each patient’s background and interests.
“If we tell patients they have Alzheimer’s, prescribe the drugs that exist right now and send them out without providing any other resources, all we have done is create chaos in their lives,” comments Sherzai, a faculty member in the department of neurology and the department of neurosurgery. “We have to give them counselling and direction. We can help make the journey much less painful, becoming one in which families bceome closer rather than being torn apart by tensions and financial burdens.”
The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program will serve as the hub for a clinical trial site for experimental Alzheimer’s drugs, including several studied at Cedars-Sinai. Over 50 drugs have worked in animal models of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease but failed when applied to humans. Researchers believe the drugs did not work in patients because their disease was too advanced. Indeed, existing drugs treat symptoms without slowing the onset of the disease.
Although genetic and environmental factors influence the development of the disease, lifestyle changes, especially if made early, can alter its course. If applied early enough, nutrition, exercise and certain kinds of mental activity not only affect quality of life but its length as well. “This is remarkable, because none of the drugs we have can do that,” Sherzai notes.
“The studies going on at Cedars-Sinai are very exciting, and we’re looking forward to helping patients participate in clinical trials,” he said.