Columbus hopes to become first city to screen all seniors for Alzheimer’s

Dr. Jonathan Liss, founder of the Columbus Memory Center, has launched a bold project that could make Columbus a world leader in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

If the three-year initiative is successful, Columbus would be the world’s first city to screen every senior citizen for memory loss and to test tens of thousands of residents for their genetic risk of Alzheimer's. The effort is supported by state and local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association, as well as city officials.

Liss and Mayor Teresa Tomlinson will hold a news conference 4 p.m., Tuesday, in the mayor’s office. Columbus Council is expected to issue a proclamation in support of the effort during a meeting at the Citizens Services Center, which starts at 5:30 p.m.

As part of the initiative, called the “Columbus Memory Project,” every resident 65 or older will be offered a free test designed to give them a “memory number” as a baseline understanding of his/her memory health. Additionally, individuals 55-75 years of age will be able to submit a confidential DNA sample, via free cheek swab kits, through GeneMatch, a program of the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry.

Tens of thousands of copies of Liss’ self-help booklet, “Living Well: A Guide for Preserving Independence with Senior Moments, Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease,” will be distributed without charge throughout the community. Town hall meetings, called “Ask the Doctor,” will be held regularly to address memory-related questions.

Eligible residents will be able to volunteer for first-ever clinical trials approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, according to a news release issued by the Columbus Memory Center.

“With a city engaged, we can create tremendous momentum to take brain health seriously, encourage early diagnosis, and rapidly fill research enrollment goals so that medications can come to the rescue much more quickly,” Liss said in the release. “With the help of the citizens of Columbus, the world will take a giant step towards defeating Alzheimer’s disease.”

Ginny Helms, state director of the Alzheimer’s Association, said: “Beginning today, Columbus will be a city engaged in defeating Alzheimer's disease while a hopeful world watches.”

In an interview with the Ledger- Enquirer, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the city will help to educate the community about the project through public service announcements and free wellness checks.

“It is possible that Alzheimer’s disease will be cured in our lifetime; medical science is that close to a meaningful breakthrough,” she said in a statement. “By learning more and participating in this study, Columbus can be ‘cure city’. We are going to assist this public health, nonprofit effort by spreading the word of how our citizens can help themselves and help chart a course to a cure.”

Liss told the Ledger-Enquirer that he initially had hoped to fund the project through Novartis, a pharmaceutical company that he worked with in the past. Though the company expressed interest, it never committed. So Liss said he decided to fund the project himself, with the help of a few other pharmaceutical companies that have agreed to pay for some of the town hall meetings. He said he has already committed $100,000 to the project, and will spend whatever is necessary.

“Columbus has been so good to me,” he said. “It’s my gift to the city and I’m really, really excited about it.”

Columbus Memory Center will hold its first “Ask the Doctor” town hall meeting on April 28th, 2 p.m., at Columbus Memory Center, 7196 North Lake Dr. As part of the event, individuals will have the opportunity to submit a confidential DNA sample. Liss said he has added 5,000 square-feet to the facility to accommodate the community.

“Alzheimer’s affects one out of every nine people above the age of 65,” according to the release. “The FDA-approved research trials are aimed at both preventing Alzheimer's disease in healthy people and dramatically slowing its progress in those who have begun to suffer.”

About 19 new drugs are expected to become available in the next five years and 57 new drugs are already in the pipeline, according to researchers.

“In fact, we are already beginning to win the war against Alzheimer’s disease, as the number of new cases per 100 is beginning to decline,” Liss said. “We now have proven general health initiatives that protect the brain, keep it healthier, and ‘bar-the-door,’ so that Alzheimer’s cannot get in.”

To reserve seats for the upcoming town hall meeting, enroll online at www.ColumbusMemoryCenter.com or call 706-327-4000.

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