Hello all, it is once again November, National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and I never miss an opportunity to give an update on what’s new regarding this critical and fast-moving topic!

While we have all been dealing with a new normal in 2021 and navigating health and wellness issues left and right (no pun intended), the neurologists, neuroscientists, and researchers in the field of dementia have been extremely busy. There is news in every segment of our work, from risk reduction, to diagnostics, to treatments as we pursue our goal of a world without Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

As you may remember, three of four parents in my immediate family were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s within a year and a half of each other. They lived for 16, 14, and 11 years with the disease, changing all our lives forever.

I always like to start my yearly update with how I am feeling about things related to this topic and this year I can report that I have never been more optimistic that a breakthrough is right around the corner. To me that means that the next two to five years hold the promise of major progress! Our National Alzheimer’s Plan calls for prevention and treatment by 2025, and I believe we can meet or even beat that goal on our way to a cure.

I was speaking with an esteemed member of the scientific community recently who shared their optimism with me. This is a person who usually holds back a bit, but the enthusiasm I witnessed during the conversation regarding at least five promising drug treatments renewed my own faith that we are close… as close as ever before.  When the news breaks, I will be throwing a party for the whole world, so you will all be invited! I will also do my version of an older adult cartwheel… it won’t be pretty, but it will be enthusiastic!

People ask me if our field suffered due to the Covid pandemic. Yes, it did, but I am fiercely proud of the work that went on behind the scenes, even as clinical trials were halted or postponed, and the nation’s collective attention was rightly turned to an equally concerning health issue. In fact, I believe that this time period netted more amazing research discoveries than an average year.

This year’s juicy developments include:

1. The accelerated approval by the FDA of aducanumab. You may have read numerous articles outlining controversy surrounding the approval and the drug. Without dispensing medical advice, (I forgot to go to med school!), I will fill you in on some common-knowledge facts about the medication.

The drug is the first true treatment for Alzheimer’s. It reduces excess beta-amyloid (one of the hallmark biomarkers of the disease). The FDA is mandating that clinical trials continue to better determine the drug’s efficacy. It is not a cure. It does not restore lost memories or cognitive function. It is targeted for Alzheimer’s disease only, not other types of dementia. It is an infusion treatment, administered intravenously in a clinical environment. The drug’s audience is only those with mild cognitive impairment or early-stage Alzheimer’s. A physician must determine a person’s candidacy for the drug based on whether they actually have Alzheimer’s, what stage they are in, and how well they might tolerate side effects. The price of the drug is a huge issue, with estimates at $56,000 per year. You should discuss the drug with a specialist if you are interested in learning more about it or whether it might be appropriate for a loved one.

The very fact that a treatment has been discovered is a step in the right direction and I am told upcoming drugs currently in Phase III clinical trials may hold even more promise. Stay tuned!

2. Diagnostics continue to advance, with PET scans now available to detect buildup of both toxic beta-amyloid and tau in living brains! (Note: the scans are expensive and not covered by most insurance, but lumbar punctures can also reveal Alzheimer’s pathology for much less expense). And… the long-awaited blood test may gain FDA approval in the near future!

3. Additional awareness factors were revealed in the risk reduction arena, including studies on the effect of air pollution, alcohol, and brain inflammation on increased cognitive risk.

As for my involvement, the past year has been a whirlwind. I am now in year six as the volunteer Community Chair for Dementia Friendly Denver, which is affiliated with Dementia Friendly America, a 2015 White House Conference on Aging program. We present a free one-hour program for organizations and community groups called Dementia 101 + Reducing Your Risk. After recently completing a six-year term on the Alzheimer’s Association Board of Directors, I serve as their public policy ambassador to Capitol Hill, where I speak with congress about dementia research funding and legislation. I was humbled to receive AARP’s Community Partner Award for my work with dementia education, and I was delighted to be asked to join the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s Dementia Advisory Committee.

I also celebrated my seventh year on the MINES and Associates team providing Employee Assistance Plan Alzheimer’s/dementia coaching and corporate client group dementia training!

And now, because I could never conclude my yearly dementia update without a list of the 15 real things we can all do at any age to reduce our risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, here you go…

  1. Exercise – Regular cardiovascular exercise is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet while we await a cure. Be sure to check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for your overall health.
  2. Diet – Adopt a Mediterranean diet high in vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins. Avoid salty, sugary, fatty, and fried foods, and limit red meat consumption. Blueberries are awesome for your brain!
  3. Sleep – Good sound, natural sleep is critical in allowing your brain to rid itself of toxins. Put your devices in another room, make it cool and dark, and discuss sleep issues with your doctor before taking sleep aids. Ask your doctor about classes of drugs that should be avoided by older adults as they may increase risk for dementia.
  4. Heart Health – There is a correlation between dementia and cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. If it is good for your heart, it’s good for your brain!
  5. Cognitive Evaluations – As you get older, ask your doctor to include a cognitive evaluation in your annual physical. Staying on top of cognition changes can help you make important lifestyle adjustments to reduce dementia risk.
  6. Smoking – There is a direct correlation between Alzheimer’s disease and smoking. Enough said!
  7. Mental Health – Depression, stress, and other emotional conditions can negatively affect cognition. Discuss these with your doctor for treatment. Manage your stress through safe exercise, yoga, meditation, etc.
  8. Hearing Loss – There is an increase in Alzheimer’s/dementia among those with untreated hearing loss in middle to older age. Discuss hearing loss with your doctor. There should be no stigma regarding hearing devices!
  9. Social Interaction – Involvement with others is critical for brain health. Especially in the age of Covid-19, socialize via online platforms or safely managed interactions.
  10. Continual Learning – Learn a new language, instrument, or hobby, or take online classes!
  11. Brain Exercise – While not every brain game may have science behind it, (some do, some don’t – I do them all!), exercise your brain through games, puzzles, and new challenges.
  12. Helmets – Always use your seatbelt and wear helmets when biking, skiing, etc. Protect your most important asset, your brain!
  13. Air Quality – New studies show a correlation between brain health and pollution. Protect your cardiovascular health by wearing a mask in heavily polluted cities or fire/smoke areas.
  14. Alcohol – Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to cognitive decline.
  15. Inflammation – Studies show a correlation between cognitive issues and brain inflammation. Choose salmon, broccoli, walnuts, avocado, berries, and other anti-inflammatory foods. Avoid inflammatory viruses and discuss inoculations with your doctor.

And finally, I would like to share the results of a study by Dementia Friendly America on the Top Ten Quality of Life issues important to those living with all types of dementia. I read this list every morning to remind myself of why our work is so important and to help me improve my communication and interaction with community members who need our help, compassion, and patience day in a day out.

  1. To continue to do things I enjoy
  2. To maintain relationships with those important to me
  3. To continue to communicate and interact with others
  4. To smile and laugh often
  5. To feel safe
  6. To feel valued, respected, and included
  7. To continue to be physically active
  8. To have a sense of purpose
  9. To prevent loneliness and isolation
  10. To continue to experience new things

Reach out to me through MINES and Associates (800.873.7138) for help creating a family dementia plan, increasing your dementia knowledge, or honing your communication and interaction caregiving skills. Contact me at dementiafriendlycolorado@gmail.com to schedule free community group learning sessions and use the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline (800.272.3900) and website (alz.org) to stay connected to resources and the latest news.

As we observe National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in November, let’s not forget to be especially grateful this Thanksgiving for the things in life that matter most. Health, family, friends, and hope. I, for one, intend to “relish” my turkey dinner even more this year (cranberry, of course). I might even allow myself a second sliver of pumpkin pie before bedtime. If there has ever been a time when an occasional treat is in order, this is it!

In wellness, JJ Jordan – MINES and Associates