Guest: Dr. Heather M. Snyder
Guest Bio: Dr. Heather M. Snyder- Director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association.
Segment Overview: We discuss the future of detection, intervention and treatment for Alzheimer’s patients, and Dr. Snyder provides her recommendations for patients who experience SCD.
Health Professional Radio – Treatment For Alzheimers
Emily: This is Health Professional Radio. This is Emily, and my guest today is Dr. Heather Snyder. She is the Director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association. Dr. Snyder, thanks so much for speaking with me today.
Dr. Heather Snyder: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Emily: We’re talking about some studies that were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, held in Boston last week on the 17th July, which suggested subjective cognitive decline may be the earliest clinical indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. My question, Dr. Snyder, is where do we go from here?
Dr. Snyder: I think that’s a great question. We’ll continue and – you can think of an illness as two parallel tracks. We need to continue to identify what are those earliest clinical, as well as biological changes, an individual may experience, that would increase their risk or identify them on being at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
We also need to have this parallel track that’s looking at identifying new therapies and new targets to develop therapies, so that we can intervene at the earliest time point to stop or slow the progression of this disease.
Emily: Absolutely. Are these findings, at this point, sufficient to begin to alter what we know about early detection of Alzheimer’s?
Dr. Snyder: We continue to build up evidence. There’s a number of studies that are looking at brain changes, looking at changes in protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid, for instance, which is the fluid that the brain is sitting in, and being able to look at how we can standardise that on a global perspective.
How can we know that a measurement that I have in Chicago is the same as a measurement I might have in Sydney, is the same as a measurement I might have in Paris? What is a good measurement, if you will, and what is an indicator that somebody may be at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease?
There’s also a number of early efforts looking at potential blood tests, starting to look at what may be — technology that needs to be developed or measures that could be found in the blood, as a possible early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. There’s actually an active research group in Australia that is looking in and investigating and understanding more about potential tools and technology needed for blood tests.
Emily: Wow. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is among the leading cases of death in this country, but it’s the only one among the top 10 for which there is no known treatment or cure. How much closer are we to early intervention, now that we are starting to be able to see all of these factors come together to point in one direction?
Dr. Snyder: We continue to make stepwise progress forward, and we continue to really advance our understanding about the disease process, and identifying new possible targets for therapy development. But for anyone that’s been personally affected by this disease, we know that our progress has not been fast enough. We definitely need better treatments and therapies to stop or slow the progression of the disease.
Emily: Is there anything that you would recommend to a patient today who is experiencing subjective cognitive decline? We hear all kinds of things – play bridge, and keep interested in things. What would you suggest to that patient?
Dr. Snyder: Well, we know that there is benefit in physical activities. The research seems to be fairly consistent in supporting that. It doesn’t seem to be that it is ever too late, that physical activity seems to be linked with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It also seems to be beneficial for individuals that are already experiencing some of those cognitive changes, continuing to stay active.
There also seems to be evidence to suggest that being socially and mentally engaged, continuing to participate in activities that promote lifelong learning, as well as interaction with friends and family or in your community, seem to have some benefit or some potential reduction of risk for individuals. Things that overall promote heart health – they seem to also be connected with an improved overall brain health.
But I would say that if you are also concerned about changes in yourself or a loved one, we would encourage you to speak to a health care professional. Because if you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another related dementia, there are things that you can do. You can participate in a clinical trial, you can make plans for your care future, your financial future – have those conversations with your family, take that trip of a lifetime.
Emily: Right. Although I think that being positive and having a positive attitude and outlook is critical to maintaining health in an individual – you’re saying that sweeping it under the rug, and not wanting to know if perhaps six years from now, 10 years from now, you may be experiencing full-on Alzheimer’s disease. You were saying that there are things that would make it worthwhile to know today instead of enjoying life at the quality you have it today?
Dr. Snyder: Absolutely. I think knowing that you can have the conversations with your family about what is happening to you – that families can access resource in the community, as well as understand the disease process, they have better outcomes. We’ve seen that in the literature. We’ve seen that in the research.
We also know that being able to participate in a clinical trial, take advantage of the most up-to-date advances in the science, because clinical trials, whatever the outcome, move us forward – move us to where we ultimately need to be.
Also making plans for you own future, being able to empower yourself to plan for your care, plan for your financial future. All of those things help to really empower the individual that is affected by Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the family.
Emily: I read that the drugs that are currently available to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s can slow it down for up to a year, and work in about half the patients. Is that an accurate statistic?
Dr. Snyder: There are actually no drugs on the market today that have evidence to support that they are able to stop or slow the progression of the disease. There are drugs that are approved that are able to address an individual symptom. They help an individual maintain function longer over a period of time. But as you said, that is — everyone can potentially benefit or not benefit from those drugs, and they may have side effects for an individual. That’s really important, to speak to your health care professional about this.
Emily: I see. What do these drugs target?
Dr. Snyder: They are actually targeting some of the brain cells and the connections between the brain cells. The pathways of how the brain cells are talking to each other. As the disease continues to progress and the neurons are dying, the brain cells are dying. The drugs are cholinesterase inhibitors or glutamate moderators, working on those two pathways, and they actually help to stimulate and allow the brain cells to talk to each other, to communicate with one another longer, despite the progressive nature of the disease.
Emily: Wow. I see. The Alzheimer’s Association’s stated mission is, “To see a world without Alzheimer’s.” Will we see that in our lifetime?
Dr. Snyder: Well, I think our progress forward is directly proportional to our investment at the federal and internationally federal level as well; so, continuing to advocate for more resources for Alzheimer’s disease research, so that we can answer many of these questions. Identify those new targets and therapies that needs to be developed, and identify the earliest changes in an individual, so that when we do have that therapy, we can intervene at the point in time.
Emily: I see. Well, thank you so much. I envision that world as well, Dr. Heather Snyder.
This is Health Professional Radio. I’m Emily and I’m speaking with Dr. Heather Snyder, the Director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association. Dr. Snyder, thank you so much for your time today.
Dr. Snyder: Thank you.