‘We’re in a different era’: PA Alzheimer’s advocates stress importance of early detection

New data was released this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Research Conference that shows the prevalence of the disease in local counties. It’s information that researchers say could help a lot of people in a lot of ways.

A map from the Alzheimer’s Association provides a local snapshot of which counties have the highest number of cases in people 65 and older. In Allegheny County, estimates show that among the 65 and older population, Alzheimer’s dementia prevalence is 11.9%. Beyond Allegheny County, the prevalence is 11.2% in Beaver County, 10.8% in Westmoreland County, and 10.7% in Washington County.

“It’s really important because, looking at this for the first time, we get to see, are there some related factors? What is the local impact? How do we plan for that?” said Clay Jacobs, executive director of the Greater Pennsylvania chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Jacobs said this data has the potential to help identify high-need and high-risk areas so people can have access to resources in their communities.

“We know that Black Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias over white Americans, and older Hispanics are about one-and-a-half times as likely as their white counterparts,” Jacobs said.

And now, two FDA-approved treatments, Leqembi and Aducanumab, are offering hope, with more drugs on the horizon that could also slow the progression of the disease. Jacobs said it’s the first step in finding a cure, proving that early detection and an accurate diagnosis are more critical than ever before.

“What they’re showing is improved cognition and improved activities of daily life, with variations on how long and how long somebody might have to be on it, but it really is in those early stages,” Jacobs said. “We’re in a different era. We’re in an era of treatment.”

Jacobs encourages families to have those tough conversations while being able to identify symptoms, potentially giving themselves the gift of time and quality of life.

“What could it look like if I had an additional year without changes because I received an early diagnosis? Most of the families we work with would give anything for that,” Jacobs said.

You can find more resources on the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Pennsylvania’s website.

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