Alzheimer’s: Behavior, Drug and Diagnoses News

Christina Knight | November 1, 2019
A scene from Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts. Daisy has been her mother's caretaker for five years.

A scene from “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts.” Daisy has been her mother Sonja’s caretaker for five years.

The past month’s news about how to fight Alzheimer’s disease — the most common cause of dementia — covered a lot of ground. On the one hand are reports related to behaviors individuals might be able to control, giving reason for hope. And while 750 clinical trials have failed, one drug has found new life.

This disease of the brain that affects thought, memory and language is not just disabling, it’s deadly: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Alzheimer’s as the sixth leading cause of death.

It’s also the most expensive medical condition to treat in the U.S., exceeding the cost of heart disease and cancer.

As we begin National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in November, here is research news and related programming on THIRTEEN.

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Behavior News

A study released Wednesday by the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center includes lifestyle recommendations in the areas of sleep, diet and exercise. As reported by CNN, neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson and his team identified 21 behaviors that can affect brain health. “I think this model is a roadmap for physicians and patients to work together to improve their brain health,” said Isaacson.

Among the 154 people in the test – all with a family history of Alzheimer’s, and with mild cognitive impairment – those who followed an average of more than 12 out of 21 behavior changes tested better for memory and thinking skills 18 months later.

On Thursday, researchers in Boston reported to the journal Science how sleep plays a role in cleansing the brain of the toxin beta-amyloid, a protein that can build up like a plaque and prevent normal brain functions. While better sleep is by no means the only answer to preventing Alzheimer’s, this new study explains why it is important.

Drug News

The most surprising recent news in the world of Alzheimer’s research came on October 22 from the biotechnology company Biogen. In March, it had declared its trial tests of the drug aducanumab, which was intended to clear beta-amyloid build-up in the brain, a failure. As reported by xconomy, the company now says its initial conclusions were incorrect, and that the drug did improve brain functions in its trial patients with an early onset of Alzheimer’s. Biogen will submit the drug to the FDA for review early next year.

Howard Fillit, the founding executive director and chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation in New York, is quoted in the xconomy.com article as feeling “cautiously optimistic” about Biogen’s new data.

Alzheimer’s News to Watch

As trials and research continue, PBS is a resource to learn about the latest scientific research surrounding Alzheimer’s disease, and the stories of those affected by the disease, and of their caretakers. Keep in mind that the causes of the disease are not fully understood, but known risk factors for Alzheimer’s include age, a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, a gene variant called APOE4, having vascular problems, and having metabolic conditions like diabetes or obesity.

Maria Shriver’s on the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement


MetroFocus: November 12, 2019
Maria Shriver, one of the nation’s most vocal advocates against Alzheimer’s disease, shares the story of her fight against the illness that afflicted her late father, Robert Sargent Shriver. Shriver is the founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. This MetroFocus interview shares that two-thirds of those suffering from Alzheimer’s, are women, who also make up two-thirds of Alzheimer’s caregivers. Shriver is pushing to fund research on women and educate women about this health threat.

Ultrasound and Alzheimer’s


PBS News Hour: October 11, 2019
Can ultrasound be used to fight Alzheimer’s? At age 61, Judi Polak is five years into a bleak diagnosis: Alzheimer’s disease. But last year she made medical history in a clinical trial, when a team of scientists, engineers and practitioners deployed a novel device to take aim at a big barrier in the fight against her illness. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports from Morgantown, West Virginia.

An Alzheimer’s Documentary


The PBS special Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts (2017) is an urgent wake-up call about the national threat posed by Alzheimer’s disease. Many know the unique tragedy of this disease, but few know that Alzheimer’s is one of the most critical public health crises facing America. Because of the growing number of aging baby boomers, and the fact that the onset of Alzheimer’s is primarily age-related, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is projected to rise by 55 percent by 2030, and by 2050 the Alzheimer’s Association estimates the total number could explode to nearly 14 million. See the program page and clips.

Assessing for Alzheimer’s


MetroFocus May 7, 2019
A new Alzheimer’s Association report shows a significant disconnect between seniors and their doctors when it comes to assessing whether they have become victims of this disease. Only one in seven seniors receive regular cognitive assessments. This MetroFocus segment details the report’s findings. See more nightly MetroFocus episodes, here.

Alzheimer’s Caregivers in New Jersey: Where to Get Help


Life & Living with Joanna Gagis, 2018
Alzheimer’s New Jersey is a state-specific resource center for those living in New Jersey. Ken Zaentz, President and CEO of Alzheimer’s New Jersey, describes the extensive array of programs designed to support over 500,000 individuals and families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. See the schedule of Alzheimer’s support groups in New Jersey, here.