New Alzheimer's treatments are coming: how patients will react

Many primary care providers (PCPs) have historically expressed hesitancy to pursue a diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) for their patients. In fact, in an Alzheimer’s Association special report, “More Than Normal Aging: Understanding Mild Cognitive Impairment,” almost half (47%) of PCPs surveyed reported a reluctance to diagnose the condition when there are limited treatment options, and 41% said they were reluctant to diagnose a condition that may be stigmatizing for patients. But new drug treatments are finally on the horizon – and the status quo is in for a big shift.

How do patients themselves feel about the possibility of learning about a cognitive concern though? Would they want to delay knowing about their risk or would they prefer to know early on? And how might the emergence of new treatments change how they think about and approach brain health?

Almost all older adults surveyed would prefer an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis - even before symptoms arise

Linus Health’s recently-published report, Patient Voices on Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias, revealed that the vast majority of the 1,000 older adults surveyed – 92% – said they would prefer to know about Alzheimer’s and other dementias early on, even before symptoms occur, if possible. 58% went as far as saying they “strongly agree” with the notion that they’d like to know of concerns before symptoms arise.

This data runs counter to prevailing misconceptions that patients would prefer not to know and opens up meaningful opportunities to facilitate earlier detection and patient engagement in brain health. So, why do older adults say they’d want to know of Alzheimer’s and other dementias early? The answer is multi-faceted:

  • 73% would want to plan ahead for long-term healthcare needs
  • 71% would seek to begin treatment with available pharmaceutical treatments
  • 70% would make lifestyle changes to protect brain health
  • 52% would join a clinical trial that is testing new treatments

Other life changes that respondents would make include reviewing and assessing finances, reprioritizing life plans, and making changes to where they live now or plan to live in future. The bottom line? Patients want to maximize the options they have and take more control of their brain health.

New drug treatments will drive a surge in demand for cognitive assessments

According to that same report, PCPs should expect a major rise in demand for cognitive assessments soon as public awareness of new drugs coming to the market expands. Just weeks after the FDA announced its accelerated approval of Leqembi, a drug to treat early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, in January over 40% of older adults surveyed had already heard of the drug. What’s more, the majority of older adults surveyed said they would take action after hearing of new treatments becoming available: more than 6 out of 10 said they would reach out to a healthcare provider for more information or testing if they heard of a new drug for Alzheimer’s being approved.

Patients’ desire for early detection is clear and, with the FDA’s decision deadline on full approval for Leqembi less than 30 days away, that surge could be imminent.

How PCPs can meet the heightened demand for access to testing and treatment

While older adults unanimously prefer to get ahead of Alzheimer’s and other dementias by receiving a diagnosis early, the reality in clinical practice today does not align. Cognitive assessments typically occur only in response to a patient or family member expressing a concern – when the intervention window has already started closing. In fact, only 23% of survey respondents report ever having had a cognitive assessment.

To meet the needs of older adults and the rising demand for cognitive testing, PCPs need the right tools. The good news is that new developments in technology hold great promise for a modern approach to making screening and assessment for cognitive health as easy and commonplace as it is for many other conditions. Digital cognitive assessments offer major advantages over traditional paper-based approaches, such as:

  • Enhanced sensitivity and objectivity
  • Streamlined administration and workflow
  • Richer, more actionable clinical insights

Digital advancements are enabling PCPS to perform more efficient cognitive assessments, helping facilitate more timely and personalized interventions in cognitive care and meet patient demand for early diagnosis and more proactive brain health practices. To learn more and develop an action plan to modernize cognitive testing in your organization, read our white paper paper, Expanding Cognitive Screening & Assessment: A Practical Guide for PCPs.