The fight against Alzheimer's

Demographic changes and a steadily aging population make global sensitization in regard to Alzheimer's imperative. (Photo: pixabay.com)

In collaboration with selected partners, the foundation MyHandicap launches a program for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. This project aims at producing a toolkit that will enable people to become active themselves in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

In consideration of the demographic changes taking place and of the steadily aging population, global sensitization in regard to Alzheimer’s is becoming imperative. Although information regarding prevention measures and helpful initiatives may already be available, many people still lack awareness about Alzheimer’s disease or effective prevention measures. This information asymmetry not only results in a disadvantage for the target audience, who does not have access to the help needed, but additionally does not allow to realize the full potential and scalability of existing initiatives, which ultimately results in cost inefficiencies.

The Toolkit

This program aims at presenting a toolkit that would include already established preventive measures as well as concrete measures of implementation, and making this toolkit available to as many people as possible. The program does not intend to “reinvent the wheel” as much as it seeks to bundle and present already existing information in a way that will be useful for experts and patients alike. As long as no effective cure for Alzheimer’s is available, a cost and time efficient way to reduce the potential risk of the disease is the best prevention measure.

Phase 1

On the one hand, the first phase of the program was dedicated to establishing the current state of research as well as defining a set of clear recommended actions that can be implemented with few resources. On the other hand, experts were drawn in and asked to provide their advice regarding these recommended actions.

Individual studies and research contributions to which we have paid particular attention are the research of Prof. Dr. med. Gerd Kempermann, “the laboratory” of Fred "Rusty" Gage (The Salk Institute for Biological Studies), The Nun Study of the University of Minnestota and Kentucky and the Research of the University of Sydney (Brain Training CCT).

 

The key findings are as follows. Adult neurogenesis - the emergence of new nerve cells in the adult brain is the key. When we learn, our adult brain also draws new nerve cells at a crucial, strategic point, which it produces according to its needs, and thus lifelong learning keeps the brain YOUNG! In addition, the world should be actively discovered, acted in, and new hobbies and activities should be committed to. The goal of the program must therefore be to keep the brain active. The toolkit follows the approach of using new digital technology to get people to use their brains more often and frequently.

Phase 2

The second phase will involve testing the pilot program in various geriatric and nursing institutions. The tests will be carried out by individuals working in group settings. The results will be assessed on an on-going basis, thus allowing for adapting the toolkit wherever needed. At the time being, the toolkit includes tasks and activities from the following areas:

  • active training of the hands and fine motor skills / sensory system
  • systematic thinking
  • general cognitive training
  • reminiscence therapy
  • virtual reality glasses

The toolkit should be implemented by technical means, so that it can be made accessible to all people. Therefore, it must be usable on desktop and mobile devices and have no high entry barriers of any kind (e.g. financial, usability, etc.). The core is formed by a periodic plan, which can be adapted to the individual needs and wishes of the users. This is hugely important as people respond to different stimuli and thus cannot all be encouraged by the same means of participation. A plan that meets the needs should keep users' interest and willingness to participate high.

The foundation MyHandicap is looking forward to pursuing this project in collaboration with the Helena Charitable Foundation and will keep you updated on the progress and unfolding of its implementation. 

 

Text: MyHandicap Foundation 04/2016 – 1. update 02/2017 – 2. update 06/2018