The news coming from an international conference on Alzheimer’s Disease ongoing in Copenhagen indicates that the research focus is pivoting towards the push for early diagnostics. Â Â A number of stories have come out about non-invasive eye exams and a possible blood test that could indicate problems long before a person begins to show serious cognitive decline. Â Several studies are gearing up to look at preventative measures or ways to slow the progression of the disease (seeÂ http://online.wsj.com/articles/alzheimers-disease-fight-focuses-on-preventive-treatment-1405396803)
Remarkably – some of the positive preventative measures are our old standbys – diet and exercise. Â Some others are likewise treatments designed to help maintain overall health (controlling hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes). Â Â But one can not help but wonder — is that about a particular disease with a very particular pathology – or is this more about staving off the Â cognitive decline of aging and ill-health?
Don’t get me wrong – I am all for studies that will help us age better, remain active, and delay and/or prevent cognitive decline.
But I think while this kind of effort is pursued the advocates and funders Â can not let science and medicine be diverted from the effort to treat a serious disease process that is devastating to individuals, families, and society.
I have written about this issue several times — there are these 3 factors that tend to creep in and divert us from hard and real problems:
- the Lure of Beauty – this is what we love about studying Â aspects of disease in place of disease. Â Â We pull on one single thread – ignoring the completeness of the fabric. Â Â We can do elegant, controlled, replicable, publishable science.
- Models of disease rather than disease – similar in some ways to 1. Â We create cartoons of disease and then make them the focus of all of the effort – forgetting somewhere along the way that models are often simplistic, artificial, and NOT the disease.
- Shifting focus from truly ill to worried well. Â Pre-cancer, pre-diabetes, pre-alzheimers. Â Of course prevention is always better than trying to cure endstage disease. Â Â But still, there is an obligation to try to relieve the suffering of people who have devastating illnesses.
Advocates should keep the pressure on.