Groundbreaking alzheimer's therapy among topics of free virtual education series

Photo: An alzheimer's patient and a caregiver.
Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers are invited to learn about revolutionary new treatments and other resources available to them in the free online Winter Education Series offered by the Iowa chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Stock photo.
Ed Lynn

According the the Alzheimer's Association, more than 66,000 Iowans are among the 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease today. And more than 73,000 Iowans are among the 11 million Americans serving as caregivers to family and friends living with the disease. Many are unaware of new treatments and resources that are now available.

That's why the Iowa chapter of the Alzheimer's Association is starting the new year by offering a free virtual education series for those living with Alzheimer's and their families. The free online programs are designed to help Alzheimer's patients, their caregivers and other loved ones to understand what to expect, both in terms of the progression of the disease, and exciting new treatment options that are now available for the first time. As well as to be prepared for dealing with legal and financial issues that are important to consider.

"One of the most important things for caregivers to know is that support is out there. A lot of caregivers don't know that the Alzheimer's association is here, and we are offering education programs like this and support groups as well," said Lauren Livingstion, Communications Director for the Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. "Being a caregiver is a tough thing to go through alone, and is something that you definitely need help and support with, both from the Alzheimer's Association and local resources, including respite care." Livingston added.

Tana Woodin, Director of Nursing at the Memory Care Unit of Eagle Grove's own Rotary Senior Living echoed those sentiments. "How to communicate with an Alzheimer's patient is very challenging, and to figure out what they want, " Woodin said. "That's why communication is the most important skill for caregivers, to understand what their wants and their needs are."

"Respite care is important so that caregivers don't get burned out, and have time to take care of themselves, and their own needs, errands, time to relax, and so on," Livingston said, adding that the service is invaluable to caregivers, but often overlooked as an option. Woodin also emphasized the under-utilized availability of respite care. "The hardest part with an alzheimer's patient is that they try to stay at home as long as they can, but that can leave the family members exhausted. Caregiver burnout is a big thing." Rotary Senior Living does offer respite care services, Woodin pointed out, "but usually by the time families come to us, they're ready to move the patient in."

"Clean, safe, warm, and loved," is the unofficial mantra of the nursing staff at Rotary, Woodin said. Adding that the time to move loved ones coping with Alzheimers into a care facility is when you have trouble keeping them feeling that way on your own.

This year things are quite different from years past, Livingston pointed out, as 2021 saw one of the biggest advancements in Alzheimer's treatment in the past two decades. "Over last summer in 2021 a brand new drug was approved by the FDA; and it was the first approved by the FDA in the last 20 years," Livingston said. "It's called Aduhelm and it is the first drug to actually slow the progression of Alzheimer's, not just treat the symptoms." There are other drugs in the same class of medication which are promising as well, Livinston said, "we are hopeful that the FDA will take a closer look at those soon."

Marketed by maker Biogen as Aduhelm, the drug's technical name is Aducanumab, and is an amyloid beta-directed antibody which the FDA granted acclerated approval to in July of 2021. The first new therapy approved for Alzheimer's disease since 2003, Aduhelm is signifcant as "the first treatment directed at the underlying pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease, the presence of amyloid beta plagues in the the brain," wrote Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, Director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in June of 2021. Elaborating that, "The clinical trials for Aduhelm were the first to show that a reduction in these plaques—a hallmark finding in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s—is expected to lead to a reduction in the clinical decline of this devastating form of dementia."

Each program in the virtual education series will be held over Zoom where the audience can ask questions and engage with others dealing with Alzheimer's from the safety and comfort of home. The shedule is broken down into five programs taking place through January and into mid February:

  • Living with Alzheimer’s for Caregivers: Early Stage - January 12, 2022, 3:30-5:00 p.m.
  • Living with Alzheimer’s for Caregivers: Middle Stage - February 9, 2022, 3:30-5:00 p.m.
  • Living with Alzheimer’s for Caregivers: Late Stage - February 16, 2022, 3:30-5:00 p.m.
  • New Advances in Alzheimer's Treatments - January 19, 2022, 3:30-4:30 p.m.
  • Legal and Financial - January 26, 2022, 3:30-5:00 p.m.

Those interested in learning more or registering for any of these programs should visit the website -- where there is also a lot more information on financial support, legal planning and more, under the help and support link.

"The biggest thing that we advocate for is that you start planning early," Livingston concluded, "that gives you more time to save up and also plan for the needs that your loved one may have in the future. Including long term care and home care. It's also important that if you see the the signs of alzheimer's in a loved on you should get an early diagnosis from your doctor if you can, so that you can start treatment."


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