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Battling Alzheimer’s — A Scientific Take

August 27, 2017 in Blog

I sat down with Dr. Ronald DeVere, a passionate participant, advocate, and chairman of Texas Alzheimer’s.

His impressive history includes the studying of neurological and neuromuscular medicine. Trained in cognitive neurology and internal medicine, he is a brilliant individual who has an immense passion for learning about and treating Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and memory disorders.

Dr. DeVere’s AD&MD medical practice has been open since 1993, when he first opened his doors in Houston, TX. Since then, he has migrated to Austin, TX, where he currently sees patients and serves on a handful of Alzheimer’s and memory-related boards.

The Future of Alzheimer’s

Upon speaking with Dr. DeVere, one is immediately comforted by the immense wisdom and experience he has with neurology and Alzheimer’s research. With years of training in cognitive neurology, internal medicine, neuromuscular science, and 24 years of experience running his own practice, Dr. DeVere knows quite a few things about Alzheimer’s and other memory loss dementia. While there is no current cure for the disease, Dr. DeVere points out that in recent years there has been progress and more awareness that led to more research being done:

“What we do have is more info and knowledge on the disease, thanks to research and awareness.”

When asked about the future of Alzheimer’s research, he goes on to state his optimism for the future, saying that,

“There are no ‘magic bullets’ when it comes to Alzheimer’s, but we know more about the disease now, which is a great improvement in my book and means we’re headed in the right direction”.

How detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s works in a specialized clinic?

The key is to determine the difference between a memory-impaired situation and dementia issues. I’ve known Dr. DeVere for a number of years, and this sums up his position more than anything. As a frontline practitioner in my dementia communities, I will attest to the absolute importance of differentiating between mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD. It determines the next steps from both a therapeutic and care perspective. These different diseases can have very different therapies and outcomes.

Many times early-stage Alzheimer’s patients do not directly see the changes in their behaviors, but their family members do. According to Dr. DeVere, it is very frequent that someone, during a visit, explains their issues as:

“I don’t see anything wrong with myself…but my daughter sees it”.

That is when drilling into the symptoms seems to be most effective. I have always advised families to call ahead to the physician or their nurse to let them know some salient facts before the examination. This can help prevent an awkward situation where the primary caregiver cannot reveal the exact circumstances because their loved one is physically present in the room.

Several steps need to be taken to achieve the most accurate data points to present to the physician:

A trained caregiver is sent to live alongside the senior for some time. These professionals have a form that they need to fill with “Activities of Daily Living,” where they note information and data points that would point to “normal”, “mild” and “severe” category, based on what we assume is a deviation from a regular routine.

Furthermore, to diagnose Alzheimer’s — patients are subject to small cognitive ability tests. These are relatively quick, with an average completion time of 15 minutes. Questions are asked in a way that requires the patient to detail and break down processes of specific activities: such as drawing what they’re asked, describe pictures and concepts, explaining an everyday routine, etc. to gauge their ability to do and remember how to accomplish these tasks if they were alone.

Additionally, a neurological exam is carried out. This assesses the quality of body functions such as vision, swallowing, speech, muscles (including the way someone would hold itself while walking down a hallway)

Determining the cause of dementia

As the doctor and assistants carry out all the tests and steps, all the data is examined and compared. This is when the gravity of the dementia is assessed, and the therapy decided.

Suppose the data shows a potential risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In that case, Ronald usually prescribes other tests that assess the levels of Vitamin B-12 (which helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells), Vitamin D, and others such as thyroid test and homocysteine proteins levels.

A different kind of approach to therapy

Unlike other doctors who prescribe the same pills and medicine to seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. DeVere prefers to get to the bottom of the diagnosis and understand the type of Alzheimer’s a patient may have. The stage and advancement speed may impact what medicine can be prescribed, and most importantly, it can reduce medical costs. To achieve this, he uses medical methods such as a PETSCAN — Positron emission tomography.

A passion for his work

Ronald has always been interested in how the brain works and operates, and most importantly, he always had a passion for anything in the realm of cognitive science.As we concluded the interview, we asked him what tips he could share from years of expert work in this domain.Dr. DeVere is a firm believer that looking into your family’s history to see if anyone has had dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is the first step to an early diagnosis. He suggests looking into it as early as when you’re in your 30’s and 40’s.A lot of people are misdiagnosed — up to 40% — one of the reasons might be, according to him, that our physicians are so busy and have so many patients that sometimes a human error is the cause of the misdiagnosis.

As we stand up and greet Dr. DeVere for his time he mentions

“I really love what I do.”

Having had the pleasure to work alongside Dr. DeVere for many years, I can enthusiastically say that he really does love what he does. Thank you for your time and for sharing your story and knowledge on AD.

If you’re interested in learning more about what The Helper Bees does for Alzheimer’s and dementia seniors, please do get in touch!

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