World Alzheimer’s Day — Is Hope Really on the Horizon for a Cure for Alzheimer’s?

Q. I recently participated in an Alzheimer’s Association race to raise money for research in memory of my father and aunt and in honor of my husband. I remember last year that Bill Gates and others donated millions to Alzheimer’s research. With World Alzheimer’s Day being this week, I was wondering if you had any updates on any current research and if anything sounds promising. I pray every day for a cure since my husband was recently diagnosed. Thanks for your help!

A. “World Alzheimer’s Day is an inspiring reminder that hope is on the horizon,” Bill Gates recently wrote in his blog. World Alzheimer’s Day was observed this week, on September 21.

At present, there are more than 55 million people living with dementia and nearly 10 million new cases are added every year, said the World Health Organization (WHO) in a recent report on the public health response to dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.

An Update on Bill Gates Funded Alzheimer’s Research

Last year, Bill Gates donated $100 million and partnered with the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) to help in their quest to develop new techniques for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias by using a “venture philanthropy” model, funding breakthrough research in academia and the biotech industry. Alzheimer’s hits close to home for Gates, whose father, 94-year-old Bill Gates, Sr., suffers with the disease. “More and more people are getting Alzheimer’s, and it’s a tragic disease,” said Gates.

Other philanthropists including Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Scott, and the Dolby family have also contributed to the ADDF, which has awarded more than $168 million to fund over 650 Alzheimer’s drug discovery programs and clinical trials in 19 countries.

. Here are some of the Alzheimer’s updates from this year:

  • Algorithm to Detect Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) with almost 100% accuracy: One of the first indicators of future Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the development of MCI. Subtle, hard-to-detect changes in the brain accompany MCI as the condition advances. A study from researchers at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) in Lithuania presents a newly developed deep-learning computer algorithm that can accurately detect and differentiate the stages of MCI from fMRI scans, which will help with early detection of Alzheimer’s. Learn more.
  • Symptoms Can Occur 12 Years Before: According to a studythat evaluated different cognitive functions in several hundred elderly people, individuals who will develop Alzheimer’s disease start to have deficits in semantic memory up to 12 years before being diagnosed with dementia. Semantic memory difficulties occur before forgetting past events, spatial-temporal disorientation, loss of personal belongings, or speech difficulties.
  • Aducanumab approved for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: Aducanumab (Aduhelm™) received accelerated approval as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is the first FDA-approved therapy to address the underlying biology of Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the FDA approval, many scientists believe that more studies are needed and post-approval data needs to be collected and analyzed before using Aduhelm. Read more on our blog.
  • Alzheimer’s Blood Test: A newly developed blood test for Alzheimer’shas diagnosed the disease as accurately as methods that are far more expensive or invasive, scientists reported recently. The test has the potential to make diagnosis simpler, more affordable, and more widely available. The test determines whether people with dementia have Alzheimer’s instead of another condition and it identifies signs of the degenerative, deadly disease 20 years before memory and thinking problems are expected, according to research published in JAMA. “I’m hopeful this test will be available within the next year or two,” Gates said.
  • Eye Research: Researcher Cecilia Lee from the University of Washington published a study on how eye conditions such as glaucoma or macular degeneration heightens the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. At present, she is working on finding different ways to scan the eye to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s. Similar research is being conducted by companies including RetiSpec, Neurovision Imaging, and Optina Diagnostics to find amyloid plaques through imaging techniques.
  • Mobile Game Brain Test: Gates Neuroscience technology company, Cogstate, is developing a brain test that looks like a series of mobile games but evaluates different functions of the brain.
  • Diagnostic Apps: Several companies, states and university labs, including Altoida, Washington University School of Medicine , Stanford/VA California Alzheimer’s Disease Center and McCann Healthcare Worldwide, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Keio University, and Kyoto University in Japan are working on developing apps that might be used for diagnostics as well. Such diagnostics will be easily accessible to anyone with a phone or tablet.

Barriers to Successful Alzheimer’s Research

One of the major challenges when it comes to Alzheimer’s research is finding the right people for clinical trials, Bill Gates discussed in his blog. For developing a treatment, clinical trials need to be conducted on participants who are still in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease so that differences in the progression of the disease can be observed based on the use of the experimental drugs being studied. However, most volunteers for clinical trials already show significant enough signs of cognitive decline that they are already in one of the later stages of Alzheimer’s. This makes most potential volunteers ineligible for these types of clinical trials. That’s why so many of the programs being funded are focused on finding an inexpensive, non-invasive method to diagnose patients early.

Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is Important

Research suggests that early diagnosis is important because it provides the opportunity for doctors to start clinical interventions as soon as possible to hopefully stop the disease in it’s track, instead of the current medication‘s out there which simply manage symptoms.

For more breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research, please read our past article on the subject here.

Planning for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Do you have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? Persons with Alzheimer’s disease and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. Through the process of Life Care Planning and Medicaid Planning (also-called Medicaid Asset Protection Planning), we help protect a family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If your family is facing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or any other type of dementia, please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a consultation:

Medicaid Planning Fairfax, VA: 703-691-1888
Medicaid Planning Fredericksburg, VA: 540-479-1435
Medicaid Planning Rockville, MD: 301-519-8041
Medicaid Planning Washington, DC: 202-587-2797
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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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