Podcast: The future of brain health with Percy Griffin

Podcast: The future of brain health with Percy Griffin

Percy Griffin, director of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, joins Leaps.org to discuss the present and future of the fight against dementia.

The Alzheimer's Association

Today's guest is Percy Griffin, director of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit that’s focused on speeding up research, finding better ways to detect Alzheimer’s earlier and other approaches for reducing risk. Percy has a doctorate in molecular cell biology from Washington University, he’s led important research on Alzheimer’s, and you can find the link to his full bio in the show notes, below.

Our topic for this conversation is the present and future of the fight against dementia. Billions of dollars have been spent by the National Institutes of Health and biotechs to research new treatments for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, but so far there's been little to show for it. Last year, Aduhelm became the first drug to be approved by the FDA for Alzheimer’s in 20 years, but it's received a raft of bad publicity, with red flags about its effectiveness, side effects and cost.

Meanwhile, 6.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, and this number could increase to 13 million in 2050. Listen to this conversation if you’re concerned about your own brain health, that of family members getting older, or if you’re just concerned about the future of this country with experts predicting the number people over 65 will increase dramatically in the very near future.

Listen to the Episode

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Show notes:

4:40 - We talk about the parts of Percy’s life that led to him to concentrate on working in this important area.

6:20 - He defines Alzheimer's and dementia, and discusses the key elements of communicating science.

10:20 - Percy explains why the Alzheimer’s Association has been supportive of Aduhelm, even as others have been critical.

17:58 - We talk about therapeutics under development, which ones to be excited about, and how they could be tailored to a person's own biology.

24:25 - Percy discusses funding and tradeoffs between investing more money into Alzheimer’s research compared to other intractable diseases like cancer, and new opportunities to accelerate progress, such as ARPA-H, President Biden’s proposed agency to speed up health breakthroughs.

27:24 - We talk about the social determinants of brain health. What are the pros/cons of continuing to spend massive sums of money to develop new drugs like Aduhelm versus refocusing on expanding policies to address social determinants - like better education, nutritious food and safe drinking water - that have enabled some groups more than others to enjoy improved cognition late in life.

34:18 - Percy describes his top lifestyle recommendations for protecting your mind.

37:33 - Is napping bad for the brain?

39:39 - Circadian rhythm and Alzheimer's.

42:34 - What tests can people take to check their brain health today, and which biomarkers are we making progress on?

47:25 - Percy highlights important programs run by the Alzheimer’s Association to support advances.

Show links:

** After this episode was recorded, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services affirmed its decision from last June to limit coverage of Aduhelm. More here.

- Percy Griffin's bio: https://www.alz.org/manh/events/alztalks/upcoming-...

- The Alzheimer's Association's Part the Cloud program: https://alz.org/partthecloud/about-us.asp

- The paradox of dementia rates decreasing: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7455342/

- The argument for focusing more resources on improving institutions and social processes for brain health: https://www.statnews.com/2021/09/23/the-brain-heal...

- Recent research on napping: https://www.ocregister.com/2022/03/25/alzheimers-s...

- The Alzheimer's Association helpline: https://www.alz.org/help-support/resources/helpline

- ALZConnected, a free online community for people affected by dementia https://www.alzconnected.org/

- TrialMatch for people with dementia and healthy volunteers to find clinical trials for Alzheimer's and other dementia: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/research_p...

Matt Fuchs

Matt Fuchs is the editor-in-chief of Leaps.org. He is also a contributing reporter to the Washington Post and has written for the New York Times, Time Magazine, WIRED and the Washington Post Magazine, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @fuchswriter.

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