Keiro and Alzheimer’s Los Angeles co-presented their first Alzheimer’s Conference together in May 2021. This conference assembled a panel of expert speakers to educate our community on Alzheimer’s disease including current research, treatment options, risk factors, and caregiver support.
While there are currently no disease-modifying treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, the speakers all emphasized resources available and proactive steps for management and early detection of these diseases affecting more than five million Americans.
In his presentation, Dr. Joshua Chodosh, MD, MSHS, FACP, focused on the benefits of early detection of dementia. He shared, “About 50% of people who are suffering from dementia never get detected and diagnosed, and that is a very serious problem.”
Benefits of Earlier Detection
- Explaining possible confusion, reasons why something is happening, and unfamiliar concepts for those affected and their families
- Increasing safety measures and precautions by identifying risks and intervening
- Addressing factors—medical and psychological—that may adversely affect cognitive ability
- Achieving goal-concordant care through discussing preferences when those discussions can still be held with the patient
- Planning proactively rather than reacting to crises
Methods of Detection
The primary method of detecting dementia is by regularly partaking in dementia screenings. The goal of screening is to identify those who are at risk and may benefit from further evaluation.
Dr. Chodosh recognizes “self-screening”, or noticing “red flags”, as one method of detection along with performance-based testing and functional-based interviews (Chodosh, 2021). According to Alzheimer’s Los Angeles, there are a few signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s to be aware of which include, but are not limited to, memory loss and decline in non-memory aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment.
Not only will a screening be able to detect signs of dementia but getting regularly screened creates a baseline evaluation for future screenings, meaning it will be easier to identify changes in health over time.
Since screenings are not diagnostic, if anything notable arises during one, medical professionals will subsequently be able to conduct a diagnostic test to formally diagnose and monitor the potential health issue.
Modifiable Risk Factors
There are several psychological and physical factors that may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The most common risk factors that are out of our control are age and genetics. “The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease doubles about every five years beyond age 65” (Alzheimer’s Los Angeles).
On the other hand, Dr. Helena Chang Chui, MD presented the important role living a healthy lifestyle plays in decreasing our risk for dementia. She shared that there are 12 modifiable risk factors that, if properly maintained, could significantly decrease the risk for dementia.
These factors begin in the early stages of our life — individuals with less education have an increased risk of developing dementia in late life. During midlife, modifiable risk factors include: hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, hypertension, alcohol misuse, and obesity. Factors later in life such as increased use of smoking, not preventing or treating depression, social isolation, physical inactivity, air pollution, and diabetes can also have a significant impact (The Lancet, 2020). Dr. Chui said, “These 12 risk factors account for about 40% of the risk of all causes of dementia. These risk reductions are protective for people with or without genetic risk” (Chui, 2021).
Keeping Our Brain Healthy
In the last presentation, Sarah Lenz Lock, JD, focused on the importance of maintaining proper brain health throughout our lives. “Alzheimer’s disease is often considered to be the most feared disease. Nearly ¾ of adults age 40 and over are either very or somewhat concerned about their brain health declining in the future,” said Lenz Lock.
Lenz Lock shared a method of maintaining proper brain health as we age called “Staying Sharp’s Six Pillars of Brain Health: BE MORE”— Be social, Engage your brain, Manage stress, Ongoing exercise, Restorative sleep, and Eat right. Each pillar touches upon areas in our life that can improve our mental health. When it comes to implementing these pillars in our lives, Lenz Lock emphasizes that the sooner we start, the better, and it is never too late.
Additionally, Dr. Debra Cherry, PhD shared a few resources Alzheimer’s Los Angeles offers for patients and families including caregiver education workshops, patient activity programs, support groups, counseling, and connections to valuable community resources.
Normalizing the Conversation
Though each presentation touched upon different topics, the conference as a whole came down to this: there is hope.
It is apparent more than ever that we destigmatize how society views Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Normalizing the conversation around Alzheimer’s with our doctor and family members establishes trust among all individuals involved. If we are able to collectively normalize talking about dementia rather than dismissing it, we will be able to take the proper steps to detect and prevent the disease.
AARP. (n.d.). The Science: Staying Sharp’s Six Pillars of Brain Health. Retrieved from https://stayingsharp.aarp.org/about/brain-health/the-science/
Alzheimer’s Los Angeles. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Disease: The Basics. Retrieved from https://www.alzheimersla.org/for-families/understanding-memory-loss/alzheimers-disease-the-basics/
Alzheimer’s Los Angeles. (n.d.). What Are the Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease?. Retrieved from https://www.alzheimersla.org/for-families/understanding-memory-loss/symptoms/
Alzheimer’s Los Angeles. (n.d.). What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?. Retrieved from https://www.alzheimersla.org/for-families/understanding-memory-loss/causes/
Chang Chui, H., (2021, May 1). Alzheimer Disease Research Update: What is the Weather Forecast? [Conference presentation]. Alzheimer’s Conference, Los Angeles, CA, United States. https://youtu.be/IVgmXQejgyU
Cherry, D., Lenz Lock, S., (2021, May 1). Hopeful Signs for the Future – Resources We Have Access to [Conference presentation]. Alzheimer’s Conference, Los Angeles, CA, United States. https://youtu.be/IVgmXQejgyU
Chodosh, J., (2021, May 1). Overview of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders [Conference presentation]. Alzheimer’s Conference, Los Angeles, CA, United States. https://youtu.be/IVgmXQejgyU
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