Forum on Alzheimer's offers reasons to hope

Family members, doctors and donors helping Alzheimer’s patients were given a little bit of belief at the Reason to Hope in Provo on Thursday. The event, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, brought together key players to discuss research advancements and what is to come next for the disease. 

In years past, it was difficult to study the effects and causes of the disease because of a lack of known Alzheimer’s patients and limited funding, explained Dr. Kevin Duff, an associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Utah.

However in recent years, researchers are turning their attention to the disease due to the high increase in the number of cases. In 2015 alone, there were 9.9 million new cases of dementia-related disorders worldwide, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That roughly translates to one new case, every three seconds. 

John “Keoni” S.K. Kauwe, an internationally recognized Alzheimer’s researcher, explains Alzheimer’s as if it were the preparation of a cake. On one hand, you can mess up the ingredients, which will affect the cake, or you can ruin a cake by baking it. This symbolizes the two research departments of studying the disease: the ingredients being genetics, and the baking process being the environment. Kauwe is a researcher in the genetics department. 

“We are attempting to isolate the genetic component of the question,” said Kauwe. Due to collaborating researchers, like Kauwe, and the Alzheimer’s Association’s uniting of scientists across the globe, they have helped discover over 20 new Alzheimer’s genes in the past few years, and together evaluated over 6 million genes. This process included over 5,000 dementia researchers, 250 clinical trials, and 130,000 participants all across the world uniting to create change.

“The foundation is being built at a rate that is unprecedented,” Kauwe said.

On the environment side, researchers are studying environmental causes such as air quality, including the poor air quality in the state of Utah. 

One study included researching patients who came in on good air quality days versus days there were inversions. They were given tests of memorization known as “practice effects.” 

Duff explained, “The differences weren’t huge, but they were definitely there. We worry some of the patients coming in are affected by their environment.”

But one thing is clear, there needs to be more research. 

“It has become the most expensive disease currently in America,” said Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association. He estimates roughly 50 percent of people don’t seek or receive the proper diagnosis due to reasons such as cost and stigma surrounding the disease.

Though their presentations gave many reason to hope about the future of the disease, they hope to gain more funding to study it, asking spectators to write letters to their congressmen, advocating for grants to be given to their cause or perhaps enroll in a clinic trial. Those who are healthy and those with the Alzheimer’s disease are needed.

We hope to see an end to this disease, said Hartley. But in the meantime they too advocate for healthy lifestyles.

“Nutrition and exercise,” said Hartley. “The earlier you do that in life, the longer the benefit.” 

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