It is no surprise to people living with dementia (PwD) that the US medical community is grossly underprepared to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. While the federal budgets for research have more than quadrupled over the past few years for these conditions, only about 5–10 percent has been spent on care research, i.e., what to do with PwDs now while there is no cure.
Research on care and lifestyle changes is often considered “unlikely to achieve significant impact,” but here we highlight three changes that support greater investment in community-based solutions and innovation backed by science.
The here and now
First, meeting the ambitious goal of changing the course of Alzheimer’s disease by 2025 pharmacologically becomes less likely with each failed clinical trial, and not to mention for other less common dementias which remain under-studied.
Second, the relentless pursuit of fast medicine — pills, injections, or infusions — is replacing the therapeutic relationship with a transactional one. Furthermore, the advent of artificial intelligence in clinical decision making all but guarantees future physicians (or providers) will not challenge standard protocols.
Third, and finally, opportunists from all walks of life have upped their game in direct-to-consumer marketing of what amounts to anti-aging snake oil, and scientists crying foul offer nothing meaningful to PwDs and their families. Without a drastic course change, we will be judged by future generations for our inaction and lack of imagination.
Supplements to cure
A focus on care does not mean we abandon the search for a cure. If you are impacted by dementia in some way, the time for action is now. Meet with your city council to make your neighborhood dementia-friendly. Ask your health insurance companies to only pay for quality and compassionate care. Support researchers who value science above press coverage. Volunteer at organizations filling the gap between fast medicine and the reality of aging. Be the thoughtful citizen who will change the world, because, like Margaret Mead said, that’s the only thing that ever has.
William Hu, MD, PhD and J. Christina Howell, BS, Dementia Spotlight Foundation, [email protected]