Early-Intervention in Alzheimer’s Can Have a Huge Impact on Quality of Life

Alzheimer’s disease is quite a common condition in the U.S.—over six million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, mortality from the disease has increased a staggering 145% between 2000 and 2019. An early diagnosis of symptoms and starting treatment early can delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Slowing down progression while cognitive impairment is mild can delay the onset of dementia. Doing so can improve or maintain quality of life (QOL) for both patient and caregiver.


Knowing what to look for makes one more likely to identify the signs and symptoms of cognitive decline. Early-interventions could provide a better handle on the person’s condition, extending the time wherein optimal QOL can be maintained. It affords time to finalize legal, financial, and care options, discuss wishes with family and develop an advance directive. Early detection also has the potential to reduce health care costs as it pushes back the need for expensive nursing home care.

On the flip side, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease may be associated with fear, anxiety, anger, and despair. Misconceptions also delay early diagnosis: like memory problems being a normal part of aging, and that Alzheimer’s is not fatal. Early diagnosis could have other ramifications, however, such as impeding a person’s independence, their ability to drive or to continue working.

Impact of Caring for an Alzheimer’s Patient

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are over 11 million unpaid caregivers looking after those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. These are typically the person’s spouse or another family member. The long duration of the disease can place a huge strain on family caregivers. An early diagnosis—and potentially early treatment—can be a big help. It can give caregivers time to adjust to their loved one’s mood, personality, and functional changes before the progression of Alzheimer’s takes over.

The Alzheimer’s Association has developed a detailed document (here). It explains the value of early detection for the patient, family, health care system, and society as a whole.

A New Early-Intervention Drug Was Recently Approved

Aducanumab (brand name, Aduhelm), a new treatment designed to slow down cognitive and functional decline in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, was granted accelerated approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on June 7, 2021. Clinical information on this treatment was first submitted in July 2020 and the FDA granted the drug a Priority Review. Priority Review means the review process would be completed within six months instead of the standard ten months. However, in January 2021, the FDA extended the review period by an additional three months. Furthermore, they required the drug manufacturer to submit additional analyses and clinical data.    


The approval has met with resistance. Results from the drug’s trials (called ENGAGE and EMERGE) have been controversial. After ending all aducanumab trials in early 2019 because the drug was thought to have failed to slow down cognitive decline, the drug developers dug deeper into the data and declared that the drug was indeed effective in specific groups of trial participants. An FDA Advisory Committee voted to not approve the drug and advised conducting an additional Phase 3 trial.

The Alzheimer’s Association disputed the need for a Phase 3 trial and requested the FDA approve the drug and monitor its performance through Phase 4 post-marketing studies. In their letter to the FDA, the Association asked FDA to weigh the uncertainty of the trial results against the “certainty of what the disease will do to millions of Americans absent a treatment.”

this episode of the Patients Rising Podcast

talks about Aducanumab and the arguments

made against it by economists.

The Bad Math That Hurts Patient Access Patients Rising Podcast

It’s clear that we need to fix the way we measure the value of new medicines. Current methods fail to account for the benefits to caregivers, the long-term savings from keeping a job or avoiding the hospital, and the countless scientific discoveries that a new drug can lead to. But there is a solution according to this week’s guest, biotech investor Peter Kolchinsky. He talks about his new study that looks at innovative ways to assess the real value of medicine. Peter explains how insurers use cost-effective math to determine what drugs they will and won’t cover, and alternative methods that take into account patient and caregiver needs. Plus, Terry and Bob discuss some must-pass healthcare bills for the chronic disease community. New Report: Getting the math right when measuring the value of new medicines Protect Medicare patients’ right to get care at home | The Hill  Patients Rising Now Issues Must Pass for Patients List for Congress   Need help? The successful patient is one who can get what they need when they need it. We all know insurance slows us down, so why not take matters into your own hands? Our Navigator is an online tool that allows you to search a massive network of health-related resources using your zip code so you get local results. Get proactive and become a more successful patient right now at the Patients Rising Helpline. Have a question or comment about the show, or want to suggest a show topic or share your story as a patient correspondent? Drop us a line: podcast@patientsrising.org The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the guest(s)/ author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of Patients Rising, nor do the views and opinions stated on this show reflect the opinions of a guest’s current or previous employers.  
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Acknowledging the global attention from all stakeholders that this approval process received, the FDA released a statement saying, “At the end of the day, we followed our usual course of action when making regulatory decisions in situations where the data are not straightforward.”

“This is the first FDA-approved drug that delays decline due to Alzheimer’s disease” said Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association. “This means individuals may have more time to actively participate in daily life, have sustained independence and hold on to memories longer. We can experience longer — the relationships we hold most dear — our families and friends”.

Below are some ongoing trials for treating early-stage Alzheimer’s disease:

1.     https://reporter.nih.gov/project-details/9643969

2.     https://reporter.nih.gov/project-details/9863727

3.     https://reporter.nih.gov/project-details/9428230

4.     https://reporter.nih.gov/project-details/9839444

5.     https://reporter.nih.gov/project-details/9781453





Surabhi Dangi-Garimella

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brings her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.

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