Alzheimer’s Disease – Recent Data

Researcher’s gathered in Paris, France this month to present their data on new developments with Alzheimer’s disease.  In reviewing the meeting’s material, it is clear that much of what is “new” is old.

In the past we were taught that patients placed on medications for Alzheimer’s Disease would derive a benefit about 50% of the time. This benefit would last for six to twelve months.

One of the world’s authorities on this topic is Susan Rountree, M.D. of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.  She has followed 641 patients since the late 1980’s.  In 2008 she reported that patients treated with medicines such as donepezil (Aricept) and rivastigmine (Exelon) survived about three years longer than patients who did not take these medications.  She re-analyzed that data, updated it and came to the conclusion that “using anti-dementia drugs doesn’t seem to prolong survival.”   She did however recommend continuing their use because her data showed that patients taking them had improved cognition and ability to function.

At the Paris event there was material presented that was not surprising but needs the legitimacy of a well planned study to turn theory into scientific evidence and fact.

The study showing that military personnel who suffered traumatic brain injuries during the Vietnam War were more likely to develop dementia has great implications for today’s veterans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan where brain injuries are on the rise.  It will clearly help us as well in terms of long-term planning for the development of dementia in private citizens suffering from traumatic brain injuries.  It was not surprising either when certain medications were cited as being more likely to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. This year’s culprits seem to be anticholinergic drugs which make a patient’s mouth dry and cause constipation.

What was not surprising were the studies that showed that elderly individuals who engaged in regular and vigorous physical exercise were less likely to develop cognitive impairment.  Those patients who get regular and vigorous exercise who show signs of cognitive problems declined at a slower rate than those who don’t.

While much of the material discussed confirmed the fact that healthy lifestyle is the best defense against this disease; there was also much hopeful discussion of research which is untangling the relationship between brain chemicals, development of plaques in the brain and its relationship to Alzheimer’s. On an encouraging note, we are much closer to early detection and therapeutic intervention than we were a decade ago.

“Colonoscopies Are Overdone In The Entire Population.”

Current recommendations by the American College of Gastroenterology call for colonoscopy as a screening test for colon cancer beginning at age 50 for Caucasians and 45 years old for African Americans. If the initial test is negative, and you have no symptoms, the recommended interval for follow-up colonoscopy is 10 years.  Despite this, a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that nearly half of the the Medicare patients with negative findings on colonoscopy underwent repeat exams much sooner than the guideline recommended interval of 10 years.

The study looked at 24,000 Medicare enrollees who had a negative colonoscopy from 2001 through 2003.  Forty six percent of these individuals had a repeat exam in less than seven years.  According to lead author James S. Goodwin, M.D. of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, there was “no clear indication for the early repeated examination “in just under half of the recipients.   He said that even in patients 80 years of age and older repeat exams were done within 7 years in 32.9 % of the study group even though these patients were much more likely to die of something other than colorectal cancer in the near future.

Goodwin and his associates were surprised by the frequency of the repeat colonoscopies since Medicare regulations preclude reimbursement for screening colonoscopy within 10 years of a negative examination result. Despite this, only 2% of the repeat exams were denied by Medicare and not paid.

Brooks Cash, M.D., chief of medicine at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD said, “I think colonoscopies are overdone in the entire population. “  He believes some of the frequent studies are provider driven and many are patient driven.

Colonoscopy is an invasive test with risks. The preparation can lead to fluid and electrolyte and volume problems in some individuals and the chance of a bowel perforation is rare but always present.  Patients need to talk to their personal physician about the need for a follow-up colonoscopy and the appropriateness of the timing suggested by the gastroenterologist before scheduling one.

Bariatric Surgery Reverses Diabetes – But What About Seniors?

A recent well written article in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel discussed how bariatric surgery to treat extreme obesity was also now a formidable weapon against Type II Diabetes Mellitus.   Type II Diabetes Mellitus or adult onset diabetes occurs in older individuals and is closely related to weight gain, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, triglycerides and accelerated narrowing of arteries. The accelerated artery-narrowing results in premature and advanced coronary artery disease and peripheral arterial vascular disease.  A study published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2009 looked at 3,188 obese Type 2 diabetics who had bariatric surgery and lost weight.  Amazingly, 78% of them no longer met the criteria to be called diabetics.

Bariatric surgery includes minimally invasive surgery such as laparoscopic adjusted gastric banding to the more invasive re-routing of the intestines and reduction of stomach volume in the classic Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. Other procedures include open duodenal switch and vertical banded gastroplasty.  These types of procedures are only performed in the morbidly obese defined as those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or greater.  The results in reversing Type II diabetes have been so impressive that experts are now considering reducing the BMI to 35 for consideration of candidacy to have these procedures.

Why these procedure reverse diabetes is a matter of debate. Weight loss is a traditional successful treatment for Type II diabetes. Some believe that the actual surgery on the gut stimulates hormones that help control the blood sugar. The positive result has led insurance companies to now start approving payment for these procedures because the $18,000- $30,000 cost is cheap compared to the $300,000 lifetime cost of treating a Type II diabetic.

With so many elderly obese patients with Type II Diabetes, and other metabolic and cardiovascular complications of obesity in the health system, is the procedure safe for the elderly?  A recent study by Robert B. Dorman M.D., at the University of Minnesota seemed to indicate that the surgery is safe.  He looked at 48,378 patients with a BMI above 35 who had bariatric surgery between 2005 and 2009.  He found that the mortality rate for seniors over 65 was higher than for younger patients but was still extremely low and rare for a death to occur. Longer hospital stays were noted for the elderly and were related to how heavy the patient was prior to surgery.  This study gives bariatric surgeons excellent figures on the risk of complications when performing bariatric surgery in the elderly.

As a primary care physician working with elderly Type II Diabetics, I will continue to stress lifestyle improvement with dietary improvement, weight reduction, increased exercise and activity as first line therapy.  Medication when necessary will be next. Bariatric surgery, now proven to be safe is a new weapon available to the proper patient.  Finding an experienced surgeon in performing the procedures (more than 200 of that procedure) will be paramount in reducing complications and mortality.