ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)— The summer solstice is June 20 and the Alzheimer’s Association marks this “Longest Day” with events to raise awareness and funds. The day honors those living with Alzheimer’s as well as their caregivers, for whom every day is the longest day. This year, it comes as great strides are being made in treating the disease.
“I think that very soon we’re going to see more robust treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and I’m so excited about that,” said Elizabeth Smith-Boivin, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s association of Northeastern New York.
The FDA’s accelerated approval of aducanumab – a first of its kind treatment that attacks the underlying brain changes that cause Alzheimer’s is providing hope for the 5.8 million Americans battling the disease – two-thirds of whom are women.
Smith-Boivin says diagnosis is critical in receiving early treatment and getting access to clinical trials.
“We still need improvement in this area because those two testing methodologies are in either expensive or invasive or both,” she said.
A PET scan with a special dye can identify amyloid, a protein gone bad in the brain. The other option is a spinal tap to remove a sample of fluid.
“Now that, of course, is invasive and many people elect not to have that so we continue to diagnose the disease by ruling out other forms of dementia,” she said.
The early signs of Alzheimer’s aren’t limited to memory loss.
“The inability to multitask as well as one used to, occasional episodes of feeling confused or lost, repeating the same story to family members over and over, difficulty with word retrieval.”
She says it’s usually a loved one who first raises the alarm and advises a gentle and hopeful approach.
“Say, ‘we think it’s important that we check this and get it tested because there are emergent treatments every day and if we could make this better, wouldn’t we all want to?’”
Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can have high physical, emotional, and financial costs, especially for women.
“Over 19% of women in America have left their job because of caregiving for a person with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” said Smith-Boivin.
Lifestyle matters in preventing the disease – risk factors are similar to cardiovascular disease because the heat pumps blood into the brain.
“But if the heart isn’t working well then obviously the brain isn’t getting the blood flow that it needs to function well in addition so we recommend to people that they follow that heart healthy diet with lots of good proteins fruits vegetables and grains.”
Focus on aerobic exercise to get the heart pumping, get plenty of sleep, and take on cognitively stimulating activities.
“We encourage people to learn a new language take a class, do something new and innovative as you age so you keep that brain working and you keep those nerve cells going.”
To mark the Longest Day, teams will be hiking the 29 Adirondack low peaks, painting them purple in memory and in honor of loved ones. There will also be garage sales, lemonade stands, and bake sales to raise money with the goal of finding an effective treatment by 2025.