The Alzheimer’s Association hosted a virtual research town hall to discuss recent updates in research regarding Alzheimer’s disease through a health equity viewpoint on Thursday.
Keynote speaker and Vice President of Scientific Engagement at the Alzheimer’s Association Dr. Carl V. Hill emphasized the importance of diversity when it comes to researching the disease.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and African Americans are two-to-three times more likely to develop the disease compared to White Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Latinos are around two times more likely to develop the disease.
Hector Gonzalez, professor in the Department of Neurosciences and Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, said that Latinos’ risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias increases as they age despite a longer life expectancy than Whites.
“These disparities that disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos really call into question contextual factors and the lived experiences of people in the United States and how that might put them at additional risk for Alzheimer’s or another dementia,” Hill said.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a non-profit organization that focuses on researching, supporting and caring for those impacted by Alzheimer’s and dementia. The town hall follows the association’s virtual international conference, originally set to be in Amsterdam.
“Just by being able to transition this meeting to a virtual format, we got over 33,000 people to attend [the international conference],” Hill said. “There were researchers and stakeholders and interested people from around the world —163 countries represented.”
Thursday’s meeting also mentioned the progress made in available therapies and medicine to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
While there is no cure for the disease, there are non-drug and drug options for treating its symptoms.
Suvorexant, a drug meant to improve the total sleep time of people affected by mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s, is the first Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved insomnia drug for those with dementia. Hill said Pimavanserin is another drug that could potentially help the symptoms of people with Alzheimer’s. If approved, it would be the first FDA-approved psychosis drug.
“The field is making great progress in developing new and better therapies for people that are affected by Alzheimer’s but also, those caregivers who are doing this important work,” Hill said.
Part the Cloud is an initiative that is appointed to continuing this advancement through funding research efforts to better the effects of Alzheimer’s. It would dedicate $30 million for 39 trials over a three-year period.
Even with the progress being made, Hill said that COVID-19 has impacted research for Alzheimer’s. Clinical trials and experiments stopped in order to practice social distancing but Hill said there are still opportunities for development.
He noted that now is the time for researchers to “[amplify] publications” as well as interact with other researchers around the world through virtual means.
“The dementia community is committed to advancing current studies despite these challenges,” Hill said.
The coronavirus has also affected the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s event. Instead of its usual large-in person gathering, participants are encouraged to support the cause within their own communities.
“We invite you to walk in your neighborhood, in small teams of friends and with family while others in the community do the same,” said David Crean, Alzheimer’s Association’s San Diego and Imperial Chapter Board chairmen.
If you would like to participate in a walk near you, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.