Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Nationwide, deaths from the disease have increased by 123% (in comparison, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 11%). By 2050, costs associated with the disease could be as high as $1.1 trillion. Relieving symptoms or postponing onset can help significantly reduce the cost of caring for those with dementia, as well as improve their quality of life.
Despite all this, there is little hope for a cure on the immediate horizon. More than 300 clinical trials were run over the past 20 years, but only one drug was approved. As a result, most experts now agree that multi-domain solutions (more than just drugs) are best, and the earlier these solutions are applied, the better. The question is how to pull this off given that Alzheimer’s is so complex, with multiple contributors.
Battling a complex disease with powerful computing
Enter precision medicine, a medical approach that tailors healthcare to the unique characteristics of the patient and his or her disease. This approach, already proven promising in oncology, uses advanced artificial intelligence techniques to process data from each patient’s genome, bio-specimens, medical history, demographic details, medications, diet and more to generate evidence-based care plans containing the appropriate use of medications as well as lifestyle, supplement recommendations and more.
Emerging science supports the concept of taking an individualized approach. For example, several studies on hormonal, genetic and lifestyle (pregnancy, menopause) issues work to explain why women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease and suggest the value of different approaches to patient care, based on patient demographics and medical histories.
Promising early results
Data from uMETHOD Health’s clinical efforts show promise when it comes to stabilizing disease in patients with Alzheimer’s; 76% of patients saw their memory improve or hold steady.
Another benefit that has been seen is the technology’s potential to help with medication management. Cognitive decline from drug interactions is a big problem in Alzheimer’s; caregivers frequently complain that certain drugs seem to make loved ones’ symptoms worse.
In uMETHOD studies, participants already were taking an average of 15 drugs (unrelated to Alzheimer’s), many of which were contributing to cognitive decline. In a regular clinical setting, it can be difficult to identify these issues and adjust medications accordingly. AI enables faster and more accurate identification of drug-to-drug and drug-to-genome interactions that might be making Alzheimer’s symptoms worse.
How precision medicine will affect senior living communities remains to be seen, but it is a space to be watched, especially as medical practices around the country begin to adopt precision medicine platforms and techniques to augment care. For facilities already offering quality dementia services (including exercise, socialization and relationship-centered care), working in concert with providers offering precision medicine solutions could be the next step in the evolution of state-of-the-art dementia care.