By Bob Le Roy
I’ve just returned from Toronto and “AAIC”—the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual international research conference—where I’ve been in the good company of Association national leadership, fellow chapter executives and staff, and over 5,100 researchers, clinicians, and thought leaders from 70 countries.
As I looked through the conference program at the extensive offerings and chose the sessions of particular interest to me, I was struck by the breadth and depth of Alzheimer’s research. In addition to pharmacological interventions, AAIC attendees gathered to discuss the latest advances in detection, prevention, policy, and care.
I’d like to share some highlights and learnings from the sessions I attended.
- Smell and eye tests could provide simple, early, low cost tools for detection of memory decline and dementia. Using newly-validated biomarkers to create tests that are non-invasive and less expensive than current methods (such as PET scans) could lead to dramatic improvements in early detection and treatment.
- While nearly two-thirds of the five million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women, new data suggests that men may receive a dementia-related misdiagnosis more often than women. The study highlights the need for better tools to provide accurate and timely diagnosis in order to offer the best care possible—as early as possible—to both women and men.
- In a session focusing on health economics, a study was shared indicating that 369,000 hospital admissions of people with Alzheimer’s in the United States in 2013 were potentially avoidable, and these preventable hospital visits cost Medicare $2.6 billion. Another study found that the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit offers an opportunity to establish a cognitive baseline, identify changes over time, and detect cognitive impairment.
- A panel discussion on the National Alzheimer’s Plan reviewed the progress made to-date, including the increased federal investment in Alzheimer’s research—from $586 million in 2015 to (hopefully) $1.4 billion in 2017—and the steps we still need to take to achieve the Plan’s vision of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025.
I also attended two receptions, one for reviewers and the other—the spectacular opening reception for all attendees and guests.
The “reviewer’s reception” was held to thank 240 reviewers who gave their time to review more than 2,600 abstracts submitted for the conference and help ensure a full and balanced conference reflecting the latest and best research from across the field.
At the opening reception—an amazing celebration of Ontario’s four seasons—I was so pleased to find, among the 5,000+ in attendance, Doug and Ione Whitney. Doug’s family carries a genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer’s. He and Ione were at the conference because they participate in the DIAN (“Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network”) Study, a large international study of families who carry the mutated genes.
Doug and Ione are among our most articulate and passionate advocates. I’m inspired by their honesty, determination, humor, and abiding love. For me, they illuminate the true meaning and purpose of the science and statistics, the policy and practice. It is our honor to serve them and thousands like them on their journeys with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Bob Le Roy has been the Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter Serving Washington & Northern Idaho since July, 2011. He joined the Association as President & Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Pennsylvania Chapter in 2008, bringing with him more than 35 years experience as a development professional and change agent in the not-for-profit sector and financial services industry.