How Technology Can Help Doctors Diagnose Alzheimer's Earlier

Padideh Kamali-Zare, PhD, and Ilyse Veron

November 29, 2021

When you lend a hand in the kitchen this holiday season, watch the cooks in your life and make sure they're not forgetting ingredients. Such memory lapses of familiar activities could signal cognitive impairment in older adults — including the kind that leads to dementia.

In fact, Alzheimer's related diseases — the most common form of dementia — will nearly double in the US over the next 20 years, according to the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging. 

It's not merely an American problem. George Vradenburg, founder of the Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer's Disease and chairman of UsAgainstAlzheimer's, names the challenge "the silent pandemic of Alzheimer's, which will only continue to ravage the world if left unchecked.” Vradenburg, also a World Dementia Council trustee, urges, "It is the time for the world to seize the opportunity to tackle Alzheimer's at the scope and scale at which it is attacking us.”

Patients have a better chance for a healthy lifespan if doctors intervene early at the stage of mild cognitive impairment, which afflicts 160 million people worldwide. This is the stage when something might be done to change an unhealthy lifestyle, slow neurodegenerative disease, or do financial planning to ensure there will be resources for caregiving.

Tools Can Decrease Risk

Technology — from remote patient monitoring to new AI-powered software (once FDA approved) — can empower physicians to improve quality of care upon diagnosis, make care plans more specific, and motivate patients to stick with their wellness programs. 

New web- and cloud-based tools can help busy doctors handle the growing aging population. These new medical devices will facilitate the development of therapeutics and interventions that can fill the clinical gaps for patients with memory concerns. A new BrainGuide is excellent for preparing patients and caregivers for doctor visits. It reminds everyone to "Talk about memory changes affecting your daily life." Doctors can ask patients questions like: Is cooking, shopping, driving, or paying your bills more difficult? Has your family mentioned concerns about your memory? Might you enroll in clinical trials? Conveniently, the NIH's National Institute on Aging provides turnkey templates for outreach to diverse populations.

We all need to look out for our cognitive future to reduce chances we'll have another costly silent pandemic.

Remember the Numbers

Twelve million of the 16 million US patients with cognitive impairment are older than age 65 and Medicare eligible. Yet typically only one fourth of these people get covered annual cognitive assessments, which could lead to more precise care management, USC research found.

Alzheimer's disease disproportionately impacts women and diverse communities, especially growing populations of African Americans and Latinx Americans — too many often don't have enough access to care or time off to secure it.

In the US, two thirds of people with Alzheimer's are women. Latinos and African Americans get Alzheimer's 1.5 to 2 times more than Whites, though biologically the disease is agnostic to ethnicity. Mississippi, Southern Florida, and South Texas particularly lack research infrastructure to address the problem, USAgainstAlzheimers has found. However, Sid O'Bryant, PhD, of the University of North Texas Health Science Center, is studying why Mexican Americans may get Alzheimer's 10 years earlier than others.

Experience of discrimination among communities of color is significant, Elizabeth Edgerly, PhD, Alzheimer's Association western regional leader, warned. Health inequity includes the likelihood of receiving a delayed diagnosis or care, noted Edgerly, who is also a clinical psychologist. Over the next 30 years, 6.9 million African Americans will enter the age of risk, doubling today's number. Getting their primary care providers specialized support is critical.

In addition to environmental stress and discrimination taking a toll on brain health, sometimes cultural stigma, lack of education, or lack of trust of medical research keeps people with memory problems from taking action. Too often families default to treating memory loss as part of normal aging.  But diet, lack of exercise, and comorbidities such as diabetes and heart conditions can bring higher risks for dementia. 

The signs may look like nothing at first — so keep an eye out for missing ingredients and talk to your loved ones about memory loss. 

Darmiyan CEO Padideh Kamali-Zare, PhD, will be presenting more information on innovative approaches to address Alzheimer's at the virtual What's Next Longevity Innovation Summit this Wednesday, December 1. 

Darmiyan CEO Padideh Kamali-Zare, PhD, is among Healthcare Technology Report's Top 25 Women Leaders in Biotechnology for 2021, after FDA designated Darmiyan's BrainSee a breakthrough. In 2020, she was Fortune 40 Under 40 for Healthcare.

Ilyse Veron is an Emmy-award winner who chose a first career in journalism over medicine. A speaker and writer on health innovation culture, policy, and business, she is Darmiyan's Head of US Strategic Partnerships and Chief of Communications.

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