In the coming months and years, more and more life-extending drugs will reach the market, but they won't reach the patients who need them if they don't make a difference.
Healthcare systems need widespread screening capabilities so that early-stage therapies and drug treatments can improve the cognitive health of millions of people.
The new drugs already approved by the FDA (approval under review in Europe) that are coming to market are not just breakthroughs for their pharmaceutical companies. First and foremost, they are breakthroughs for millions of people around the world who are at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or who are already in the early stages of the disease. It is estimated that one in ten Americans over the age of 65 has some form of dementia. Only 40% are officially diagnosed with the disease. And the number of people affected continues to grow.
A lack of promising drugs as well as a lack of possibilities for early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's, has meant that Alzheimer's has not received the public attention it deserves.Hopefully this will change soon. America is leading the way.
For the first time, new drugs can slow the progression of the disease. But there is a catch. For these drugs to work, they have to be given in the early stages of the disease.
That's why it's so important to diagnose Alzheimer's as early as possible. To date, half of all Alzheimer's patients are diagnosed at a moderate to severe stage of the disease.
What do healthcare systems need to do now to ensure that innovations reach where they are needed most?
The most important thing is to inform and raise awareness of Alzheimer's among all stakeholders. Medical advances and therapeutic options need to be communicated.
Currently, more than 50 drugs for AD are in various stages of regulatory approval or in clinical trials, but fewer than one in four primary care physicians and neurologists report being familiar with developments.
In addition to general information on the subject, the topic of Alzheimer's disease urgently needs to be de-tabooed in society. The importance of early detection and prevention must be widely known. Only then can something be done. There are now screening options, such as AI software that scores MRI images of the brain, which can help detect Alzheimer's as early as possible.
Many studies have also shown how much factors such as lifestyle, diet, sleep, exercise, stress, intellectual activity, etc. affect cognition. Most people are unaware of the modifiable risk factors and the benefits of early detection and new drug therapies.
It is important that insurers and healthcare systems provide appropriate screening on a large scale and in a timely manner. Currently, screening is mostly a self-pay service and is therefore not offered on a population-wide and comprehensive basis. However, as more life-prolonging drugs enter the market, the demand for screening will increase.
Physicians will need to channel patient flows and quickly and efficiently differentiate between healthy patients and patients who require further diagnosis. We need health systems to drive breakthroughs in early detection and treatment of Alzheimer's and take a proactive approach to cognitive health.
There is much work to be done. Now!
Further article: 3 Things Health Systems Must Do Today to Prepare for New Alzheimer's Treatment