• World Alzheimer's Day-0

Bay Medical’s Dr. Woolery has been practicing geriatric medicine for 30 years now, sharing that he became interested in practicing geriatric medicine when he was in medical school. “We got to take care of VA patients in the hospital that I was at. Most of these veterans had great stories, even back to World War I. I think that’s what really sparked my interest, the stories that they had to tell, because when you sat down to talk to them, it was really fascinating,” he shared.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, with 5.7 million Americans currently living with the disease. “To me, one of the things that is interesting is that we have been trying to treat this disease for 40 years, and we’ve made no progress. Here we are, 40 years later, and we have a disease that’s ranked the sixth most common cause of death in patients and we still don’t have an effective treatment. I think that goes with the fact that we still don’t know what causes the disease,” Dr. Woolery says. When asked if he thinks that a treatment is likely in the future, Dr. Woolery notes “I think they’re now developing some drugs that have potential for sure but the problem with this disease is that it doesn’t start when you’re 65 and already symptomatic. It probably starts when you’re 35 or 40 and not having symptoms. How are you going to convince these 50 million individuals that you need to start taking this medicine 25 years before you get the disease? So I don’t see that we’re going to have this magical breakthrough where you have the disease and if you take this medicine, magically the disease gets better. I think we’ll be able to develop medication that will probably prolong the onset of the disease.”

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can impact a patient’s overall health. “The biggest thing that I see is that it increases fall risk tremendously, and you know as you get older and you fall, bad things happen. You break bones and you have head injuries, it’s not a good thing. That’s one of the things that as a geriatrician, I want to try to decrease. Their mobility gets worse, and as their mobility gets worse, they have increased fall risk. They also become more sedentary, so the likelihood of them developing pressure sores becomes more prominent.” Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are also at risk for becoming malnourished. “Their food intake becomes less, so they become malnourished, they become more incontinent and have difficulty performing what we call pre-programmed motor skills. They forget how to bathe, brush their teeth, chew, swallow or speak, which puts them at risk for a lot of different things. This can vary from aspiration, pneumonia, fall risk, and I think the overall biggest thing for me would be their fall risk. I get really concerned about that.”

According to the National Institute of Aging, genetics, health, lifestyle, and environment are all factors in developing Alzheimer’s. Dr. Woolery explains the genetic link to the disease, sharing “there is a gene called APOE is a genetic risk factor, it increases your risk about four times to develop the disease. There are some other genes that we’re looking at right now, but haven’t been able to really narrow it down and say yes if you have this genetic mutation your risk goes up significantly but for sure the APOG gene is a risk factor.”

Thinking about how our society is continuously developing and becoming more automated, Dr. Woolery remarks “I think using the computer and cell phones are very neurologically taxing. You want to have that brain stimulation and that kind of influence, so I don’t think technology has imposed more of a risk, it’s probably helping some people maintain their brain space. It will be interesting to see what happens with Alzheimer’s in the next 30 to 40 years.”