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Recognizing National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and Advocating for Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease

National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month not only raises awareness for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) every November, but also shows support to the  6.2 million Americans currently living with this disease.

AD is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive brain disease that causes severe decline in cognitive functions such as memory, language and thinking. This disease typically begins as trivial occurrences like losing car keys or forgetting names but can eventually progress into aggression and loss of basic skills, such as walking. AD is the sixth leading cause of death in America with symptoms beginning to show in a patient’s mid 60’s. 

Dementia is frequently interchanged with AD. While AD is the most common cause of dementia, the term dementia is a general description for cognitive and memory loss serious enough to interfere with a person’s daily life. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, AD accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases, with more than half of people with dementia also having other causes occurring simultaneously, or mixed-dementia.

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Getting tested early for AD is crucial for the longevity of patients’ mental health. When the disease is diagnosed early on, there are treatment plans that can be utilized to help slow or stop symptoms. People who experience memory decline are urged to seek diagnosis to begin a treatment plan tailored to them. 

Indications that AD could be the cause of different behaviors include

  • Memory loss significant enough to disrupt day-to-day activities
  • Poor judgement
  • Loss of initiative/spontaneity
  • Losing track of dates
  • Forgetting current location
  • Wandering/getting lost
  • Misplacing items in strange places 
  • and difficulty completing daily tasks like bathing.

Although those experiencing these symptoms may feel worried about the future, treatments are beginning to arise to fight against AD. While this new information is exciting and hopeful for all of those afflicted, there are some hurdles to becoming approved for treatment. 

Testing for Treatment

A drug, lecanemab, is expected to receive FDA approval and has been found to slow the progression of AD by 27%. Payers, healthcare providers and patients will need to have a reliable diagnosis before beginning this treatment. This requires payers to seek out a test that informs a clinician’s definitive diagnosis of AD to be eligible for treatment. 

Current testing options such as positron emission tomography (PET) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) are flawed as they are not globally available, have high costs and are believed to be invasive procedures. Additionally, more than half of these patients are misdiagnosed due to the lack of diagnostic tools in primary care where most dementia patients are managed. 

Testing for AD should be cost effective, easily accessible and convenient for patients. When a diagnosis is met, this allows the patient to receive all resources available to them. This is significant as more treatments are expected to become FDA-approved. Many patients may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed if their area does not offer proper testing. With the use of accurate and non-invasive testing, patients will receive a diagnosis and begin treatments that best suit them and their needs. 

Fortunately, there is an option currently available, even for people recently diagnosed with dementia that does not require invasive or expensive testing and is NIH Gold Standard validated. The test can be ordered through the patient’s provider. Once ordered, the provider will take a small skin sample and ship it off to a lab. The sample will then be incubated and evaluated. When a conclusion is reached, the healthcare provider will be contacted and will review it at a follow up appointment. It is 95% accurate in diagnosing AD may allow patients to be approved for lecanemab if they fit all the criteria. This procedure is much faster and more affordable than CSF and PET tests and can be done with dementia patients to receive a quick diagnosis, even in early disease. 

Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is an important time to show patients and their families that there is hope for the future. In the US alone, more than 500,000 new cases of AD arise per year. Strides are being made by scientists and physicians to create medications and therapies that slow the progression of this disease for all those affected. November lets patients and their families know they are not alone in this seemingly overwhelming battle. 

Frank Amato is President and CEO of SYNAPS Dx.

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