Advancements in Treatment
By: Scott Finley | Reviewed by: Dr. Mary Quiceno
An estimated 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s dementia.
Research tells us the actual disease process may begin up to 20 years prior to the development of symptoms.
All individuals with dementia pass through a precursor stage called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), but not everyone with MCI will go on to develop dementia.
An early and accurate diagnosis is critical. It enables an individual to participate in the decision-making regarding their care, gives them the opportunity to put legal and financial documents in order, and opens the door for them to access clinical trials.
And, for the first time in history, an early diagnosis may qualify an individual to receive an FDA-approved treatment for the disease.
The approval of the drug aducanumab by the FDA for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease marks a new day for millions of Americans. Aducanumab, also known by the brand name of Aduhelm, is the first drug shown to slow Alzheimer’s disease and is the beginning of a completely new future for Alzheimer’s treatments.
History has shown approvals of the first drug in a new category invigorate the field, increase investments in new treatments, and generate greater innovation.
While it is not a cure, aducanumab is expected to be the first of several treatments to come. In clinical trials, it’s been shown to help extend one’s ability to perform activities of daily living, such as making meals, managing finances, and traveling outside the home independently.
Aducanumab works by removing amyloid from the brain. Amyloid is the protein that clumps into sticky brain plaques — a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The drug is administered intravenously every four weeks.
Now that the drug is approved, the manufacturer will need some time to ramp up large-scale production and arrange for nationwide — even global — distribution.
When considering any treatment, including aducanumab, it is important to have a conversation with your healthcare provider to determine if you are a candidate for the treatment.
Knowing the stage of the disease is important because aducanumab was studied in those with early Alzheimer’s disease and MCI due to Alzheimer’s, and evidence of a buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain.
Symptoms of MCI include a noticeable change in cognition — such as short-term memory loss, problems with word finding, or losing track of the day or date — but not yet full dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association has been actively speaking with the Center for Medicare Services to encourage it to cover the treatment and any companion diagnostic.
Additionally, the Association is educating payers, prescribers, and pharmacists; informing people with dementia and their families; talking to legislators; and a variety of other activities on behalf of people who may benefit from this newly approved treatment.
If you or a loved one is experiencing memory changes, the Alzheimer’s Association strongly encourages you to speak with a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. We also invite you to check out the education, support groups, and resources provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.