The Alzheimer’s Association hosted a research reception for northern Santa Barbara County residents at the Santa Maria Wisdom Center on Wednesday.
The presentation on the latest Alzheimer’s research was delivered by Alzheimer’s Association Program Director and Research Champion Susan Howland.
Howland emphasized the importance of staying up to date with current research because what individuals hear today will probably be a little different than what they hear tomorrow based on how quickly medical research changes.
The presentation had an emphasis on identifying individuals in the mild stage of Alzheimer's or early stages of mild cognitive impairment. Howland says most who are diagnosed with the disease are at the moderate or severe stages.
Local resident Tony Gonzales, a national board member of the Alzheimer’s Association and its early-stage advisor, shared his personal experience being diagnosed with mild-cognitive impairment at age 47 and reminded attendees that Santa Maria is 74% Hispanic, and him being a part of the Hispanic community sees how the disease is casually dismissed. Studies have shown that the Hispanic population is 1 1/2 times more likely than the White population to develop Alzheimer’s disease or a form of dementia.
“Most of them feel like that’s part of getting old and, honestly, most of my family thinks the same thing,” said Gonzales. “Saying, 'It just happens,' 'You get old and forget things.' I got news for them, it does not have to be that way. We can control things with our health.
"What's good for your heart is good for your mind."
Howland highlighted what may impact the risk for cognitive decline or dementia and said there are both "modifiable risk factors" and "non-modifiable risk factors" at play. The non-modifiable risk factors are things like aging and genetics. The majority of risk factors are modifiable, things that individuals can do to change the possible course of these diseases. Things like gaining more education, levels of substance use, being physically active, cardiovascular health, sleep, a healthy diet, social engagement and environmental lifestyle factors are modifiable risk factors.
“We need to find treatment, risk reduction strategies, ways to tackle this disease from every angle and we know historically the individuals who participate in clinical trials are not women and they are not from the Black and Hispanic community,” said Howland.
Howland says that next week the Alzheimer's Association will be going to Washington to advocate that clinical trials include individuals that represent the world's population, so when that research is published they know that it will be beneficial to everybody and not just one small select group.
Howland said "biomarkers' ' are changing the game and assisting in accelerating the speed of research with practices such as brain imaging, biofluid analysis, and emerging markers.
“If we can get biomarkers validated and out into clinical practice we ideally would be able to identify those individuals who are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia while they're still asymptomatic,” said Howland.
Howland said there's been progress in developing blood-based biomarkers for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
The Alzheimer's Association shared statistics at the forum, stating that 16,859 people died from the disease in 2019 just in California, a 281.5% increase from 2000. An estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's dementia today.
April Chavez is the Santa Maria City Reporter for the Santa Maria Times. If you have information, or a story idea that you would like to share, send her an email at AChavez@SantaMariaTimes.com.