Alzheimer's Treatment Enters Promising New Era


The rates of Alzheimer's disease are growing across the United States. According to the Alzheimer's Association, nearly 7 million Americans are living with the disease.

As of 2024, more than 31,000 people aged 65 and older in Hawaii have Alzheimer's, with another 11% of people aged 45 and older experiencing some form of subjective cognitive decline.

To bring more awareness to Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Huidy Shu, a neurologist and chief of medical subspecialties for Hawaii Pacific Health Medical Group, appeared on Hawaii News Now (HNN) during Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month to talk about common symptoms, prevention tips and treatment options, including a recently FDA-approved drug that has shown great promise in helping battle the disease.

According to Shu, the most common symptom of Alzheimer's disease is forgetfulness.

"People with Alzheimer's disease have problems making new memories. They might forget recent conversations, recent people they just met or recent events. Older memories that are more well-formed, people tend to do better with those," he told HNN Sunrise anchor Steve Uyehara.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Planning challenges.
  • Organizational difficulties.
  • Personality changes.

"Some people may even experience slight vision changes," Shu added. "For example, some people with Alzheimer's disease find that they have a hard time finding the ketchup bottle in the refrigerator if it's cluttered. But if the bottle is sitting there by itself, they can find it easily."

The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is aging, but there are lifestyle adjustments that can improve brain health.

Quantity of exercise and quality of diet are two lifestyle choices Shu says directly impact Alzheimer's disease risk.

Those who exercise more frequently in their early and mid-adulthood showed fewer memory problems later in life.

Shu also noted a plant-based diets high in fish and low in red meat can help reduce the risk of memory-related diseases as well.

"People who drink less alcohol and smoke less all do better with their memory than people who do not," he says.

In 2023, the FDA approved the drug LEQEMBI for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease in patients with mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia. The prescription medication works by reducing the buildup of amyloid proteins in the brain, slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

"Amyloid protein is considered by many to be the cause of Alzheimer's disease," Shu said.

"This drug is a breakthrough," Shu added. "We believe this could be the beginning of a new era of treatment for Alzheimer's disease. We're all really excited about it."

Shu recommended that anyone who is worried they or someone they know may be developing Alzheimer's disease should talk with their primary care physician.

"Your PCP can perform simple memory tests that can pick up most cases," Shu said. "If your PCP believes there could be an issue, they can refer you to specialists who are experts in memory disorders, such as geriatricians and neurologists, to perform more in-depth testing."



This segment originally aired June 12, 2024, as part of the Hawaii News Now "Sunrise" Healthier Hawaii series. Watch the full broadcast here or below.


Published on: June 20, 2024