As a philanthropist, Ryan Kavanaugh has donated to a number of organizations focused on solving some of the most pressing medical issues today. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, one of the beneficiaries of his support, remains one of the leading research institutes in the country, offering such innovative research programs as the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program.
Through the program, some of the most knowledgeable experts in memory and brain health strive to provide patients with individualized lifestyle plans for the future and the tools and support necessary for dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.
A Focus on Early Detection and Intervention
The researchers at Cedars-Sinai believe that the best chance of ending Alzheimer’s disease altogether lies in early detection. At present, fewer than half of all people with the disease know that they have it. Even worse, the disease causes individuals to lose memories and personality to the extent that they do not recognize or remember family and friends. Alzheimer’s has resounding effects not just on the patient, but also on their loved ones, who must watch the person they know and love change. With early detection, this process can possible be slowed or even stopped.
The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Cedars-Sinai primarily focuses on early detection and intervention, as well as research for patients facing mild cognitive impairment, a condition that causes noticeable declines in cognition and memory without significantly affecting quotidian life. Patients with this condition have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. However, it may be possible to lower risk by making the right lifestyle choices, including getting proper nutrition and exercise, setting aside time for relaxation, sleeping an adequate amount each night, and engaging in social and cognitive activity.
Too often, people let fear paralyze them. Some choose not to undergo screening because they feel that they will be powerless if they find that they are at risk. However, Cedars-Sinai aims to teach patients that they can be proactive about mental health later in life. The research team believes that early identification could lead to major delays in disease progression for most patients, and even a cure for some. When diagnosis comes late, cognitive impairments have already happened and neurological issues cannot be reversed.
Cedars-Sinai currently offers a comprehensive prevention program for managing disease progression. The program starts with an initial assessment, including retinal imaging that detects plaques in the back of the eye, a key sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Then doctors perform an extensive workup that can determine level of risk as much as two decades before symptoms appear. And, in collaboration with the Cedars-Sinai Biobank and Translational Research Core, participants continue to track progression with annual assessments, which, collectively, have created a large pool of data for researchers to use as they develop new tools for changing patient outcomes.
The Biobank Collaboration and Tracking Alzheimer’s Disease Data
In the coming years, the Biobank will collect thousands of fluid and blood samples to provide the data researchers need to better understand the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the factors that drive its progression. The ultimate goal of the Biobank collaboration is to find a cure for the condition. And the first step toward a cure is in identifying biomarkers, which can be used to measure disease progression and the effects of various treatments. Biomarkers can provide a complete history of a disease and offer an incredible amount of information about potential interventions in delaying and stopping progression. More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease today, and this figure is expected to triple in the next 45 years, highlighting the importance of discovering a cure.
Most clinical and medical programs researching Alzheimer’s disease send blood and fluid samples to one of 28 disease research consortiums funded by the National Institute on Aging. Instead, the Cedars-Sinai Biobank operates independently and collects and stores data on site. Researchers there understand the importance of collaboration, however, and make the data available to research studies across the nation, striving to create new relationships with centers to drive innovation.
The Lifestyle Intervention Study for Cognitive Impairment
Moving forward, the best strategy for preventing Alzheimer’s disease and slowing progression involves promoting healthy lifestyle choices. To better understand the link between healthy bodies and healthy brains, Cedars-Sinai launched the Lifestyle Intervention Program for Cognitive Impairment. This study looks at lifestyle interventions that have prevented mental and physical decline among patients with the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Physical and occupational therapists, social workers, nutritionists, speech language pathologists, and doctors from a wide range of specialties contributed to the study.
Ultimately, the study revealed that healthier bodies result in healthier brains. While this is not the most satisfying bottom line for patients facing Alzheimer’s disease, it is an important starting point for continued research.