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Doctor calls people at risk for Alzheimer’s out of shadows

It’s time for people at risk for Alzheimer’s to seek help, a local neurologist said Tuesday.

Dr. Jonathan L. Liss, of the Columbus Memory Center, located at 7196 N. Lake Drive, said researchers are on the brink of stopping the disease, and participants are needed for clinical trials.

“My major message is that we have to stop whispering about memory loss,” he said during an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer. “There are many things that we can now do, proven things, to keep from ever getting memory loss. And once a person does have memory loss, there are many things that should be done to keep them independent.”

The Columbus Memory Center’s nonprofit, the Medical Research and Health Education Foundation, is recruiting participants for an Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative Generation Study, Liss said. The study is designed for healthy adults 60 and older who are at a high-risk for late-onset Alzheimer’s.

The study is sponsored by Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, and Amgen, a biotechnology company based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., according to a news release issued by the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative, which has been promoting the study. It will be conducted in collaboration with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, in Arizona, as well as the National Institute on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association, and other national organizations.

“The number of people in Georgia age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to increase by 46.2 (percent) by 2025 to a projected 190,000 people, an important reminder that a medical breakthrough for the disease is strongly needed,” the news release said. “...This will be the first study to incorporate genetic testing and counseling into the screening process.”

The five-year Generation Study will involve more than 1,300 cognitively healthy older adults, ages 60 to 75, who are at high risk of developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s because they inherited two copies of the e4 type of the apolipoprotein (APOE) gene — one from each parent, according to a news release issued by the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. About one in four people carry a single copy of the e4 type of the APOE gene, the release said, and about two percent of the world’s population carries two copies.

Liss said the Columbus Memory Center was one of three locations initially chosen for the Generation Study, which will now be conducted at 90 locations in North America, Europe and Australia.

He said the Columbus Memory Center soon will launch another study for people with a medium-risk for Alzheimer’s but are able to fully function in their everyday lives. The center also has been conducting two studies for people who are sure to get Alzheimer’s, and eight additional trials for people at every stage of the disease, trying to slow down the progression.

“I’m proud to say we have studies for every level of the disease,” Liss said. “And now with the Generation trial, and (another trial being called Genematch), we have the opportunity to offer people research if they don’t even have the disease. So we’re looking for people who are above age 60 and we’re going to try to figure out if they have a high genetic risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, and potentially give them medication or a placebo to prevent it from ever starting.”

Liss said senior citizens who don’t know their memory scores can contact the Columbus Memory Center for free screening. People already experiencing memory loss, or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, should make sure they’re getting the best care possible. He further recommends that people come to the center to participate in the research and also tap into resources available through the local Alzheimer’s Association.

For people trying to avoid Alzheimer’s, there’s plenty they can do to stave off the disease, the doctor said.

“To prevent this illness, it is now proven that if we take good care of the brain, it will reduce the incidents of Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “By taking care of the brain, I mean doing all of the things that make good sense — exercise, taking care of diabetes, blood pressure, avoiding obesity when one can, eating a little healthier.”

Liss said it’s an exciting time for Alzheimer’s research and he hopes Columbus residents will get involved.

"I've been in the practice of neurology for roughly a quarter of a century, a little bit longer than that," he said. "When I started in this field, we had no medications, only slim hopes of a medication. ...We're about to bring many medications to market that are going to make dramatic differences in (Alzheimer’s). It's going to revolutionize how we care for the disease.”

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter