“She’s a rock star!” That’s the reaction Women of the (239) President Pat Moslow got when she shared the name of the group’s May 2019 luncheon speaker with a colleague. In her opening remarks at the recent luncheon, Moslow referenced that high-achieving characterization as she introduced Dr. Heather Snyder, senior director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association, to speak about “Women and Dementia” as well as broader news in brain health research.
As she stood amongst over 100 luncheon guests, Dr. Snyder said, “I’m not a rock star…I love science and research…my Mom said I could be anything…but I should never sing!” The audience, including members of host organization Women of the (239) as well as women (and a few men) from other organizations in the greater Naples area, was riveted by Dr. Snyder’s broad and inspiring overview of current statistics, brain science, clinical trials, Alzheimer’s and dementia research as well as progress in combination therapy to improve brain health.
The latest statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association are a sobering reminder that passionate and committed researchers like Dr. Snyder are so important to ensure continued progress in the study of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Currently, 5.8 million people in America are living with Alzheimer’s disease (the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all dementia cases), and nearly two-thirds of those diagnosed are women. Women are also disproportionately impacted by caregiving requirements, with women representing over 60% of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers.
While the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related dementias is expected to increase in the coming decades, significant progress is being made to better understand the disease and find more effective treatments. Dr. Snyder cited a quadrupling in funding for Alzheimer’s and related dementia research at the federal level (National Institutes of Health) over the period 2011-2019, greater social awareness and fund-raising through events like the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s and The Longest Day, large financial commitments from high-profile individuals like Bill Gates and the award-winning film “Still Alice” as just a few examples of progress in the last decade. She also offered a wider perspective on the relatively young field of research into Alzheimer’s and related dementias, which only fully began to develop in the 1980s, compared to decades of research behind cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Today, the Alzheimer’s Association is the largest non-profit funder, globally, of Alzheimer’s research, with a global investment of $165 million in over 450+ projects, working across 25 countries. Dr. Snyder referenced several promising areas of study and progress in Alzheimer’s detection, prevention and treatment, including:
- the use of biomarkers such as blood, saliva, optical and brain imaging to improve detection of cognitive changes
- the study of differences between men and women in disease-related brain changes, to better understand why Alzheimer’s and related dementias currently impact women more than men
- the connection between cardiac health and brain health, with recent changes in blood pressure management guidelines arising from current research (SPRINT MIND trial)
- the link between 2.5+ hours/week of moderate exercise and a delay in cognitive decline in those at risk for Alzheimer’s (Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network Trials Unit or DIAN TU) and the emergence of more combination therapy
- over 352 clinical trials for drugs and devices to treat Alzheimer’s and related dementias in progress between Phases I, II and III
- Part the Cloud, a movement founded in 2012 to accelerate scientific progress in Alzheimer’s research by funding the most promising early phase studies
- the Alzheimer’s Association U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER study).
Dr. Snyder emphasized how important it was to “know and manage your heart health as it is critically important to your brain health.” She also reminded the audience that vitally important clinical trials are always in need of participants.
A particularly helpful reference was made to the Alzheimer’s Association’s list of ’10 Ways to Love Your Brain’, a very practical and accessible guide to things all of us can do to protect our brain health. The list can be found on the association website at www.alz.org/10Ways.
If you or a loved one is impacted by cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900, or visit www.alz.org for more information and resources.