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Louisville conference to offer support, resources to dementia patients and caregivers

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The Alzheimer's Association says about 6.9 million Americans who are at least 65 years old live with the condition and 73% of them are ages 75 and up.

Caregivers for patients with Alzheimer’s disease often experience heightened stress. A free conference in Louisville next week will offer education and support.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America will make a stop in Louisville Wednesday as part of its Educating America Tour. The group will host a free conference for people with dementia, their caregivers and others interested in learning about Alzheimer’s, a neurodegenerative illness that causes memory loss.

The conference will feature professionals who’ll explain strategies to prevent and treat dementia, as well as how to do estate planning. It will run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn Louisville Airport.

Dr. Rachel Hart, a geriatrician at the Norton Neuroscience Institute Memory Center, will give a talk at the conference about behavior changes caregivers should watch for in their loved ones with dementia.

“Really, behavioral symptoms are one of the things that lead patients, unfortunately, to be placed into long-term care,” Hart said. “So it's a common reason that we get patients referred to our clinic, either for management of those symptoms or [because] they may never have had a diagnosis of dementia until some of these symptoms develop.”

She’ll discuss how to help identify and manage those symptoms, which can include increased rates of depression, repetitive types of behavior, hallucinations and sleep problems.

Beyond next week’s conference, there are other services and resources locally that aim to help patients and their caregivers.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana chapter offers a variety of programs. And it’s partnering with Norton’s Memory Center on an educational series for patients and caregivers, featuring presentations by medical professionals.

Norton’s Memory Center also has expanded the services it offers over the last several months.

Hart said they recently launched a dementia prevention clinic. It’s geared toward helping people concerned about developing memory problems, such as those with a family history of dementia.

“We have patients come in and see one of our providers. They do memory testing and then they kind of go over what we know about dementia prevention — things like diet, exercise, sleep patterns — and they work on trying to create kind of an action plan,” she said. “'What are the things that put me at higher risk for dementia and what can I do differently?’”

Another big development has been the introduction of lecanemab, a new medication that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Hart said patients at Norton have shown stability, or even modest improvement, on memory testing after six months of treatment.

Lecanemab’s side effects can include swelling or bleeding in the brain. Hart said the majority of Norton patients who’ve developed swelling or bleeding have had mild cases so far, and they’re monitored with regular scans.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved lecanemab last July, in a watershed moment for Alzheimer’s treatment as international research into the disease continues.

Some of that research has roots here in Louisville. The locally based National Stem Cell Foundation is working with the International Space Station to study neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The foundation sent its latest experiment into orbit in March. It involves brain organoids, or collections of cells, that mimic the central nervous systems of people with Parkinson’s disease and primary progressive multiple sclerosis, according to CEO Paula Grisanti.

She told LPM News a future mission will send organoids to space to study Alzheimer’s disease.

Morgan is LPM's health & environment reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.

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