Cleveland Clinic has launched the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center, the first such medical clinic in the U.S. focused on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) prevention, research and support exclusively for women. If the initial response is any indication, it has tapped a significant unmet need.
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“Within 24 hours after the center opened, we had over 200 phone calls from women interested in enrolling, and many had completed our online assessment,” says neuropsychologist Jessica Caldwell, PhD, who directs the center. That, to her, suggests significant interest and commitment, particularly because the assessment takes over an hour. It’s also key for women who want to participate because the focus is on significant lifestyle change as a way to prevent AD.
“We want to give hope and a path forward to women who have no symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease but are concerned about their risk,” says Dr. Caldwell. “Our program is the first to pair prevention strategies with a woman’s individualized risk to help women make tailored, lasting behavior changes that promote brain health and reduce risk. We hope our program will help us better understand why women are more likely than men to get this disease and how we might prevent it.”
Located within Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, the center is a pilot program in collaboration with The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, a nonprofit founded by Maria Shriver dedicated to raising awareness about women’s increased risk for AD and education around preserving brain health.
Who’s a candidate?
In view of evidence that two-thirds of patients with AD are women and changes in the brain occur two decades before symptoms develop, the center’s focus is on women in their 30s to 60s. The ideal patient is a woman interested in speaking with board-certified doctors and gaining an enhanced understanding of the impact of sleep, stress, medical conditions, menopause, nutrition, exercise and more on brain health, along with adopting positive long-term lifestyle changes.
A woman considered eligible will meet with Dr. Caldwell and a family physician and undergo a comprehensive assessment and blood work. The information will be used to create a customized plan for reducing her risk of AD. Each patient will be followed up quarterly and return to the center annually to repeat the initial workup.
“All of our staff members at the center are women,” says Dr. Caldwell, “because we understand that sometimes women don’t prioritize their own health and, when they do seek care, they may feel they haven’t been heard.”
A focus on prevention
While the center is not a treatment clinic, if a woman enrolls and is later found to have a memory disorder, a referral can be made to the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
“Women do not need a referral,” says Dr. Caldwell. “They can visit WomenPreventAlz.org or call 833.WOMEN.AD (833.966.3623) to make an appointment. We are looking for women who currently have no symptoms or have passed a neurologic screening for Alzheimer’s disease but are concerned about their risk.”
Funding during the center’s pilot phase will limit the number of patients seen during the first three years to 380. “The first questions we need to answer are whether the center is useful for helping women change and whether it impacts health variables,” says Dr. Caldwell. “Our goal is to make it sustainable by advocating for insurance coverage for preventive services, applying for federal grants so we can do more research, and fundraising.”
A research vision too
Initial plans for research at the center include building a registry of de-identified patient data, to which women could opt in. But the staff’s aspirations go well beyond that.
“For example, we’d like to investigate whether women who are stressed are more likely to have memory concerns or poor health outcomes,” says Dr. Caldwell. “We’re also interested in studying women’s brains to see if changes in brain volumes or regions are related to any of our clinical variables.”
Dr. Caldwell also hopes the center will be a resource for the women she sees who have a parent with AD. “I care for a lot of newly diagnosed patients,” she says, “and the two questions I almost always get from their children are ‘Will I get it?’ and ‘What can I do to prevent that?’ Our mission at the center is to provide the means, tools and plans for these women to change their lives decades before symptom onset.”