Oliver: Recent news brings potential advances in fight against Alzheimer’s

New drug to slow progression, new requirement for dementia training a cause for optimism

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

The drug, Aduhelm (aducanumab), is the first of its kind that actually aims to delay the progression of the disease, instead of just addressing symptoms, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The way the drug works is that it attacks amyloid in the brain, which is thought to be one of the causes of the irreversible, progressive brain disorder. Alzheimer’s disease steals one’s ability to think, remember and function normally. In the later stages, it often causes the sufferer’s body to forget to do things like swallow, leading to death.

Alzheimer’s disease causes changes in the brain that interfere with neurons, either destroying them or not allowing them to connect to other neurons, interfering with brain functioning.

It’s a cruel disease, one that as of yet has no cure. It’s no wonder that the first drug to be approved since 2003 in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease would be a cause for celebration.

Unfortunately, this approval does not come without its share of controversy.

First, not all of the clinical trials showed a clear benefit from the drug. In fact, the FDA is requiring the maker, Biogen, to conduct a new clinical trial to verify the drug’s benefit. If it fails, the FDA could withdraw approval.

The cost, at $56,000 per year, for infusions that must be done monthly, seems high, but the company said that could be less with discounts and rebates.

Still, for those with mild cognitive impairment from Alzheimer’s disease it could offer a chance to delay the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association says that makes it all the more important that the disease is detected early so that a diagnosis can be made and treatment can begin.

The Alzheimer’s Association plans a 30-minute webinar about aducanumab on June 24. It will review what the drug is, how it is administered, what can be expected, who is eligible to receive it and steps for getting the treatment. To learn more, visit alz.org.

Here in Illinois, a piece of recently passed legislation offers some hope that more people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and related dementias will be diagnosed earlier.

Late last month, Senate Bill 677, which was a joint initiative between the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter and Illinois Lt. Gov. Julia Stratton, was adopted on a 56-0 vote.

The legislation, which also was passed 111-0-1 in the Illinois House, requires that all health care providers who serve people 26 and older be required to have regular dementia training.

The idea is to be able to diagnosis dementias earlier in order to help ones plan for the future, access resources and participate in clinical trials.

That training, according to a news release from the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter, would include how to identify and diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, effective communication strategies and management and care planning.

As someone who is a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, I think this is something that will benefit a lot of people in Illinois, especially since statistics show that the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is increasing.

In fact, only 45% of people with dementia ever get a diagnosis, Illinois chapter Executive Director Delia Jervier said in the release. Too many people are going without resources that could help.

Stratton knows firsthand, too, what it is like to deal with Alzheimer’s disease, having cared for her mother.

“The fight to end Alzheimer’s is personal,” Stratton said in the release. “This bill ensures that health care professionals are educated on identifying the signs which can lead to a better diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other related dementias. We are one step closer to Illinois becoming a dementia capable state.”

Here’s to that.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.