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World Alzheimer’s Month Places Focus on Caregiver as Research Emphasis Shifts to Early Diagnoses

September

September 2013 marks the second global World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge the stigma of dementia that currently affects 35.6 million people. 

Early

Early detection of neurodegenerative diseases has been discussed as a way to manage types of dementia, which include Parkinson's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Huntington's and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Neuroimaging

Neuroimaging is an area of research that has potential for early detection of neurodegeneration. Currently, a standard workup for Alzheimer's disease normally includes structural imaging with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT). 

September 2013 marks the second global World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge the stigma of dementia that currently affects 35.6 million people. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 7.7 million new cases of dementia each year.*

This year the theme for World Alzheimer's Month 2013 is ‘Dementia: a journey of caring’ and this campaign culminates on September 21st—World Alzheimer’s day—where Alzheimer associations across the world will focus their activities on the care required by people with dementia throughout the course of the condition.

The accelerating rates of dementia are cause for immediate action, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), where the number of people with dementia has risen the fastest.** The rates are exacerbated by the region’s fewer resources and lower healthcare budgets, which struggle to keep up with this demand. Recent estimates by the WHO place the worldwide costs of dementia at $604 billion in 2010.

Early detection of neurodegenerative diseases has been discussed as a way to manage types of dementia, which include Parkinson's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Huntington's and Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, the vast majority of diagnoses are made when the patient is in an advanced stage. It is hoped that early diagnosis could ultimately lead to disease-modifying medications that could be used early in disease.***

Neuroimaging is an area of research that has potential for early detection of neurodegeneration. Currently, a standard workup for Alzheimer's disease normally includes structural imaging with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT). Structural imaging can highlight tumors, and reveal evidence of of mini or large strokes, impairment from severe head trauma, or an accumulation of fluid in the brain.

Preliminary research points to emerging imaging technologies and new applications of current technology that could detect hallmark changes related with Alzheimer's disease. If further research endorses the potential value of brain imaging, its use may one day be expanded to play a more direct role in diagnosing Alzheimer's and in earlier detection of the disease.

The path to providing more funding and services to patients is a long and difficult one. With scientific research constantly under scrutiny and legislation slow to materialize, progress can often be painfully slow.

In July of this year, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) agreed to cover the cost of one PET beta-amyloid scan per patient under special circumstances.

However the organization stopped short of fully approving PET beta-amyloid imaging for Medicare recipients with a neurodegenerative disease.

Gail Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance, is a keen advocate of this advanced imaging method and recently commented on her hopes that CMS would give the go-ahead for broader use of the technique to detect the accumulation of beta amyloid in the brain, which has been identified as an early gauge of risk for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

As a global foundation partner with Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI), GE Healthcare has an ongoing commitment to spread awareness of neurodegenerative diseases by sharing key information and helping physicians work toward viable solutions for patients. 

GE Healthcare’s MIND (Making an Impact of Neurodegenerative Diseases) campaign aims to provide an outlet for the caregiver by providing a platform to share their stories of how Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and parkinsonian syndromes has touched them, their family or friends. 

 

Refs

* – http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/75263/1/9789241564458_eng.pdf
** http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/priority_medicines/BP6_11Alzheimer.pdf
***- DeKosky ST, Marek K. Looking backward to move forward: early detection of neurodegenerative disorders. Science. 2003 Oct 31;302(5646):830-4.