Interview conducted by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Could you please explain what is meant by the term ‘cognitive impairment’? What typically causes this?
Cognitive impairment is the loss of brain functions like short and long term memory, the ability to plan ahead or conduct more complicated intellectual tasks.
It can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, but there are also temporary reasons like vitamin deficit or depression. A diagnostic test is important to exclude these other, treatable causes.
It was recently announced that ADI had partnered with Lilly to provide educational resources intended to help improve communication surrounding cognitive impairment. What sparked this move?
A number of surveys of both physicians as well as people with dementia and caregivers showed that this is an issue. People often refer their cognitive problems to “normal ageing” and hesitate to consult their doctor.
As a result, many people are not diagnosed or diagnosed too late which makes it harder to receive effective treatment and support.
What are the main difficulties physicians face when making a diagnosis based on cognitive impairment?
Physicians feel they lack information about the patient that could help them making a diagnosis. Our materials aim to prepare people better before they visit their doctor.
Could you please outline what the partnership between ADI and Lilly has involved and what were the main outcomes?
We collaborated on the development of supportive materials that can help communication between people with cognitive impairments and their doctors.
Part of it was already put together for World Alzheimer’s Day 2011, when ADI released a report on the benefits of early diagnosis and intervention and looked at the perspective of people with dementia and their families.
Lilly conducted a survey among physicians in 2012 and found they also see a lack of communication as a problem. We shared our insights and came up with a more comprehensive set of educational materials around first signs and diagnosis.
What impact do you hope these educational resources will have?
They should encourage people to visit their doctor earlier with cognitive complaints and prepare for their visit. That should help physicians to better diagnose and they overall impact we aim for is a better quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias because they receive proper support.
How important is obtaining a timely diagnosis for the cause of a patient’s cognitive impairment?
In the case of Alzheimer’s disease there are treatments available that currently slow down the progression of the disease and hopefully in the future modify the disease.
Some of these treatments work for Lewy Body dementia as well and in case of vascular dementia control of vascular risk factors may benefit people with this disease (although there is no cure yet).
On top of that they will have access to social treatments like caregiver support and a number of psychosocial programmes that have proven to be effective.
How much progress has been made since the G8 Dementia Summit held in December 2013?
This was the first meeting that showed high level political support for the cause and a number of actions have been suggested, for instance to speed up regulatory approval for new drugs, but also to create societal awareness. Four follow up events in 2014 and 15 should drive this process further.
What are ADI’s plans for the future?
We want to raise more awareness, especially in lower and middle-income countries and support and strengthen Alzheimer associations around the world, especially by creating regional structures.
Our Asia Pacific office in Singapore is a first step and hopefully we can soon announce similar initiatives in other parts of the world. In September 2014 we plan to launch the next World Alzheimer Report on modifiable risk factors for dementia.
Where can readers find more information?
For the materials: http://www.alz.co.uk/resources-patients-caregivers
About Marc Wortmann
Marc Wortmann is Executive director of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) since November 2006. He studied Law and Art History in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands and was a member of the Parliament of Province of Utrecht, and worked with various charities and voluntary organisations.
Mr Wortmann was Executive Director of Alzheimer Nederland before joining ADI and has been a speaker at many international conferences on campaigning, raising awareness, fundraising, public policy and ethical issues.