Nobody likes hypotheticals, especially the real-life kind that play out beyond the laboratory microscopes and petri dishes.
And I hate to be a Debbie-Downer, but after billions of dollars and hundreds of single-therapeutic drug failures, at some point you’ve got to ask yourself: What if they never find a treatment or a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?
Now just so we’re clear, I am a staunch believer that we will. I think they will find the mechanism(s) that trigger the cascade of brain cell death, and develop at least some multi-pronged intervention that slows that process. But in the meantime, it is not unreasonable to establish a Plan B. You may think implementing Plan B ahead of Plan A may seem like putting the cart before the horse. But unless you want to follow your obese, arthritic, polypharm-addicted, demented horse down a path of life-plan disruption, I recommend we all get with the program. The Plan B Program.
The Plan B Program
This is a moonshot, but worth consideration given the enormous price tag that comes with Alzheimer’s disease care. And it needs some work. A large chunk of the potential for Plan B’s success rests squarely on the shoulders of each and every human being who adopts The Plan. But there are ways to alleviate some of the burden/costs/access/convenience by making Plan B a national priority and directing funds toward non-pharmacological projects. And the beauty is, the benefits of participating in Plan B directly reduce the risk and incidence of other chronic diseases. Imagine that- positive side effects! The “infrastructure” needed to form the foundation of the plan feed our country’s economy and thereby boost health and wellbeing yet another way. Plan B is a win for everyone. In fact, I think it should be the “New and Improved Plan A”.
- Clean up the environment. No, that is not a political statement. Exposure to toxins in the water, in the food, and in the air is one way to reduce the risk of many diseases, not just Alzheimer’s. Finger point all you want at industry giants, corrupt politicians, and corporate greed- if money buys their compliance, then buy it. Or not. I know that sounds icky. But there is no easy answer and no time to tiptoe through political minefields. It’s a fixable variable, so how can we fix it?
- Clean up the food supply. Remember when we were all skinny? It wasn’t that long ago. Look at your old photo albums from the 1970s. Watch “The Waltons” reruns. Let’s go back to the era before Biggie Size, Combo Meals, and Venti Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Let’s pay the farmers to grow stuff. Let’s build gardens in food desserts. Let’s serve healthy meals in SCHOOLS and HOSPITALS! Watch waistlines shrink and arthritis pain suddenly subside. Diabetes who? That’s right. Buh-bye insulin injections and finger sticks. Hello healthy brain and all ten toes. Eat more plants, America. Our government will help you.
- Meaningful Movement. Again, whatever it takes to plug the hole and right the sinking ship. We are a culture who is movement averse, and our young spawn are even more unfamiliar with the basic human experience of sweating. So what will it take to get people moving? Discounted gym memberships? Not likely… but maybe. More bike paths and walkable communities… yes, that could help. Parents who have the time and knowledge to model movement behavior to the younger generation? And the kids! Can we let them play? Outside? PE and recess and free play… the kind where they can jump and swing and climb? How about a resurgence in blue collar trades, where physical labor not only earns a respectable income but is a satisfying and productive mind-body experience. Exercise is scientifically proven to improve cognitive function. There is no medication that can show the same benefits that exercise can. We will need a steering committee for this one.
- Refocus Big Pharma. Drug companies love the big, popular diseases. They also like symptom suppression, not disease cure. And they like lots of people to have the popular diseases and become dependent on long-term symptom management. There is no incentive to cure. There is no love for the rare diseases that affect smaller numbers of people- people who desperately need their attention. Can we dangle the carrot in another direction? Like massive monetary rewards for curative disease outcomes, medical devices/technology advancements that restore muscle or nerve function, or the eradication of expensive metabolic monsters like diabetes? This might involve Big Pharma actually collaborating with Big Farma, which would be a win across multiple industries. Would a billion dollar pay out for course correcting our collective demise be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but it’s a billion dollars spent in the right direction.
- Mindfulness. I don’t know what else to call this one. It’s a category header for personal accountability, self-determination, motivation and initiation, stress management, and old fashioned grit. I believe it is possible to create a movement where people are actually inspired to direct their own health. Given the tools, the support, and the normalization of behaviors, I believe that people can be captains of their own ships. If the #justdoit, #yeswecan, and #metoo movements can cause viral shifts in public perception and behavior, why can’t #IGotThis be just as big? This means we may need to level some big barriers and socio-economic disparities, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
- Mental Health Investment. Strong, healthy bodies need strong, healthy minds. Stress is a huge contributor to chronic disease, including Alzheimer’s. Addiction and substance abuse are ruining families and communities- and shame on Big Pharma for perpetuating opiod dependency and dirty doctors for exploiting the crisis. But on another note, would there be a reduction in the incidence of dementia if caregivers were given a break to recharge and manage their own stress? Or if depression and anxiety were treated with more people-focused interventions than prescription pads- just in case the long term use of drugs that haven’t yet shown their long term effects turns out to be a very negative thing? There is probably no direct evidence that could support such anecdote, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.
You know, regardless of whether or not Plan A comes to fruition, Plan B is not such a bad thing. Even if they find the single smoking gun and “cure” Alzheimer’s disease, the risk factors and behaviors that influence the disease process will continue to do damage and continue to cause problems. Somehow most of us figured out that smoking was a bad idea… we saw a direct cause and effect. Perhaps the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is more nebulous mystery, but the risk factor correlation is not bunk. Reduction in toxic exposure, access to clean drinking water and healthy food, regular movement, meaningful work, lifelong learning, and mental health support is a National Plan B worth supporting.