Healthcare isn’t ready for Alzheimer’s treatments, study finds

Researchers say they are cautiously optimistic that the advanced clinical trials currently in progress show promise in slowing or blocking development of Alzheimer’s disease could translate into new treatments in the next few years. But treatments are only part of the Alzheimer’s problem.  

Millions could miss out on a breakthrough because the U.S. healthcare system infrastructure can’t push treatment into rapid clinical use for several years, according to a new report from the RAND Corporation, the nation’s largest independent health policy research program.

“Addressing the capacity constraints may turn out to be as challenging as developing an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s,” says senior study author Soeren Mattke, MD, MPH, D.Sc., in a press release.

There aren’t enough doctors to diagnose patients with early signs of Alzheimer’s who may be eligible for new treatments, diagnostic scanners to detect the disease or infusion centers to deliver said new treatments, researchers say.

Researchers created a model to simulate the pressures that such an approved therapy would put on the healthcare system. In the scenario, if a new therapy were approved for use in 2020 and screening began a year before, about 71 million Americans age 55 and older would need screening, follow-up exams and imaging tests.

That demand would exceed the nation’s healthcare system resources. It could take almost 19 months to get an Alzheimer’s diagnosis—and researchers calculated that waiting period could remain until 2030.

Researchers estimate that up to 2.1 million people with mild cognitive impairment could develop Alzheimer’s while waiting for evaluation and treatment resources after approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Researchers recommended actions that can be taken today to prepare for tomorrow’s breakthroughs:

  • Train Primary care physicians and nurse practitioners to conduct initial MCI screenings. PCPs and general psychiatrists could become certified in dementia care to provide advanced testing and treatment. Telehealth may come into play, researchers say.
  • Intensify efforts to develop alternative diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s related brain changes beyond PET scans, such as cerebrospinal fluid, and consider using mobile PET clinics to reach more people.
  • Expand where patients could receive medications, including expanding clinics, allow for treatment in physician offices and home infusion.

Biogen, a biotechnology company that is working to develop an Alzheimer’s treatment, sponsored the research.

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Topics: Alzheimer's/Dementia