A panel of research and healthcare experts explored causes, symptoms and exciting breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s and other dementias at the President’s Lecture Series on Health at Regis on April 18.

The forum, moderated by Kellie LaPierre, DNP(c), AGNP, assistant professor of Nursing at Regis, attracted more than 200 people that included nurses, social workers, students and interested citizens.

Robert Moir, PhD, assistant professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, described Alzheimer’s disease as a modern plague, affecting more than 5.4 Americans with up to 40-50% over the age of 85. Twice as many women are affected than men. Current drugs temporarily help symptoms at best, said Moir, however, nothing treats the underlying disease. Hindering the progress in searching for a cure, is funding for research.

Paula Grammas, PhD, executive director at the George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rhode Island, discussed new therapeutic targets and preventive strategies. New therapies are expected to emerge that focus on the roles of cerebral vasculature, neuroinflammation, and the immune system in neurodegeneration. Targeted therapy development including drug repurposing and repositioning is also on the horizon. Grammas noted that the estimated cost of health care in 2017 for Alzheimer’s patients was $259 billion with more than 15 million Americans who are unpaid caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Positive news is that mid-life fitness can reduce the risk of dementia later in life. A study shows that high fitness can reduce the risk of dementia by 88% and low fitness can reduce the risk by 41%. Studies have also shown that lack of sleep may be associated with higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Allison Dill, MS, APRN, FNP-BC, assistant professor of Nursing at Regis, and Kellie LaPierre, director of the Adult-Geriatric Nurse Practitioner program at Regis, co-presented on the management and care of those with dementia. Seventy to 85% of dementia patients will exhibit negative behaviors that can include aggression, depression/anxiety, confusion, memory loss, repetition, hallucinations, paranoia, mistrust, wandering, restlessness, and sleep disturbances. These behaviors may be the result of physical pain or discomfort, medication, hunger, overstimulation, unfamiliar surroundings or the inability to communicate effectively. Dill and LaPierre offered evidenced based solutions to address these behaviors, some of which might include meeting the person’s individual needs and creating a therapeutic environment to decrease stimulation and increase safety. The goals of care, they said, should include maintaining quality of life, maximizing function in daily activities, enhancing cognition, mood and behavior, fostering a safe environment and promoting social engagement. Critical to maintaining quality of life is advanced care planning, a topic not easily addressed. They did remind the audience of the many resources available to support both professional and family care providers, and that the burden of care should be shared by many.

The Regis President’s Lecture Series on Health, which offers free contact hours for nurses and social workers, was established in 2007 and is hosted in partnership with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. The series invites members of the public and the university community to participate in an exciting dialogue with health care leaders from government and the health professions.

Save the dates for the fall lectures: October 17, 2018 - Personalized Medicine: Fantasy or Reality? and November 14, 2018 - Homelessness: Challenges in Treating HIV and Other Infectious Diseases.