More than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease are learning how to cope with the life-changing diagnosis. But there may be a sign of hope if you or a loved one is diagnosed.
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration approved a high-profile Alzheimer's drug marketed under the name Aduhelm, the first new drug to slow the mind-robbing disease in nearly two decades.
The FDA granted accelerated approval of the drug, a standard to provide earlier access to patients with serious diseases with an unmet need despite "residual uncertainty" because the agency decided potential benefits outweighed the risks.
The drug is administered by IV once every four weeks to slow decline in people with mild memory and thinking problems. Biogen said the list price would be $4,312 per treatment for a person of average weight – a price that would total about $56,000 per year, before insurance.
FDA approves new Alzheimer's drug, Aduhelm, the first in nearly two decades
The National Institute on Aging defines Alzheimer's disease as an "irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks."
It's a type of dementia that is also deadly, ranking as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
While there are treatments for symptoms available, there is currently no cure for the disease. After a diagnosis, people age 65 and older survive an average of 4 to 8 years but can live as long a 20 years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Tony Bennett is 'functioning well'
In an interview with AARP, the 94-year-old singer said he was first diagnosed in 2016. Gayatri Devi, M.D., a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, who diagnosed Bennett, said the singer has some “cognitive issues, but multiple other areas of his brain are still resilient and functioning well."
Beth Kallmyer, MSW, the vice president of Care and Support for the Alzheimer’s Association, told USA TODAY that Bennett and other public figures coming forward with their diagnoses helps in raising awareness and reducing the stigma around the disease
"People see it and they say, 'Oh that's happening to my family too,'" she said, which can prompt people to talk about it. "The danger is when families don't talk about it. Because then the disease progresses and the family doesn't have support in place... But when they're talking about it with their family and friends, they can... make plans that are really critical."
How to cope with an Alzheimer's diagnosis
Kallmyer said that while a diagnosis can feel "insidious" due to its nature of worsening over time, there are "things that families can do to make a difference."
Some suggestions Kallmyer has for how to cope with a diagnosis includes:
Have conversations early: Kallmyer says it can be easy for families to ignore things in the beginning stages, but thinks it's important to "talk about what your plans are going to be" instead of waiting "until they get to a crisis."
Involve the person living with Alzheimer's: "Have conversations with the person living with dementia, the person that's been diagnosed so that you can help them talk about how they want their care to go," she said.
Make a plan: Kallmyer suggests covering a range of topics including questions about day-to-day care ("How are you going to handle when your independence becomes at risk because of safety issues? How do you want us to help you through that?") and end-of-life discussions while the person is still "cognitively able to have those conversations."
Create a support system: "It's very critical that family members find support and that can be with each other," she said, suggesting checking in with how people are feeling and what is working well and not.
Use other resources: The Alzheimer's Association offers a 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900) as well as online support groups, education programs and local chapters. "And right now those are all running virtually so there's a ton of options for people based on what they need," she added.
Contributing: Ken Alltucker, Cydney Henderson
'Life is a gift': Tony Bennett reveals battle with Alzheimer's disease
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: There's a new drug for Alzheimer's. How to cope with a diagnosis