Wednesday is the longest day of the year, which for many means more daylight to surf, swim and sunbathe. For a Miami health center, however, the Summer Solstice is a day to remember those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association marks June 21 as the “Longest Day,” dedicated to disease awareness. June is also Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and the Integrated Health Center of Miami is hosting a charity bike ride Wednesday evening and subsequent conversation with Alzheimer’s researcher and IHC Director Dr. Rubén Valdés.
The “Longest Day” is celebrated across the country with events like dance marathons, hikes, concerts and game nights. The bike ride is the IHC’s first event of this kind, and for Valdés, the cause is personal.
“It has been brutal for my family because as of very recently, there was no hope for these patients,” said Valdés, whose aunt is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. “This is really one of the worst diseases that can take mankind. It takes our memory of our loved ones. It takes everything that we’ve worked for.”
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Valdés specializes in cognitive decline and has studied under Dr. Dale Bredesen at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California. Bredesen, director of neurodegenerative disease research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has performed studies related to the early stages of Alzheimer’s. In one study of 10 people who had age-related memory decline, improvements were tracked based on a 36-point program related to diet, exercise, sleep and other areas.
“Most of these patients really tend to get worse over time, so our mission is to be able to offer a way out,” Valdés said. “These patients could have a shot at improving this illness.”
Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist with Miami Jewish Health Systems, said that although studies like Valdés’ help people understand risk factors for the disease, the actual effectiveness in reversing symptoms is still unknown.
“The verdict is still out,” said Agronin, medical director for mental health and clinical research at the Miami Jewish Health Systems. “We’re hopeful, but it’s a complex disease and even with all the resources put into some of the new experimental treatments, it’s been a hard road so far. Ninety-nine percent of all studies in the last 15 years have failed.”
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, affecting more than 5 million people nationwide, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. By 2050, the number could soar to 16 million, the group says.
According to Valdés, the most groundbreaking part of his research is the ability to pinpoint neurodegenerative drivers that cause the disease, like inflammation. Those drivers cause degeneration of the nervous system, specifically the neurons in the brain that erode when disease strikes.
Studies have also linked Alzheimer’s to risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and low levels of folate.
Around 15.9 million family and friends across the country care for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, spending about 18.2 billion unpaid hours helping their loved ones through the disease.
The idea behind trying to reverse the disease will be presented to patients, their families and volunteer cyclists when the ride ends at NatuRxHeal, an all-organic Doral cafe that partnered with IHC for the event.
“I want to lay down that information for people to be aware of predetermining and risk factors … and how to manage that risk,” Valdés said.
Valdés, some of his patients and the IHC staff will be riding the 45-minute loop around Doral to raise awareness about the disease and its possible cures.
“It was very painful to me, having the skills and knowledge that I have, to not have been in time to help my aunt,” Valdés said. “Our entire practice, our entire career, is dedicated to changing the face of healthcare.”
If you go
What: Bike ride benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Riders should meet at NatuRxheal, 3105 NW 107th Ave., Doral. The ride will end at the restaurant.
RSVP: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
If it rains? Supporters will still meet at 6 p.m. at NaturRxheal for drinks, food and conversation with Dr. Rubén Valdés. A portion of proceeds from food purchases will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.