Expert to speak on Alzheimer’s Disease at Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center

By Kathy Day

Gilbert J. Ho, M.D., a geriatric neurologist speaking at the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center on Aug. 16, plans to put a new twist on his lecture this year.

In the past, he said, he’s talked in general terms about memory and aging, but this year he had an “aha” moment as he was thinking about the topics that are presented in TED Talks – those online programs and conferences about “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

“They introduce things people don’t think about that have implications for other things,” said the founder of Rancho Bernardo-based PCND Neurosciences and the Center for Memory and Aging. “Diseases don’t happen in isolation – they are all interrelated.”

Understanding that relationship, he added, tells something about both or all of the diseases a patient may have and gives insight into treatment or prevention.

So this year he’s naming his talk “What’s Cancer Got To Do With Alzheimer’s Disease.” He said he believes people will find it more interesting than his past lectures. His talk at the Senior Center begins at 2 p.m.

“When we go to the doctor as we get older, we notice all these diagnoses – cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s is mixed in for some,” he said. “Why is that the case? What do they have to do with each other.”

A specialist in geriatric cognitive neurology, Ho spent eight years at UCSD working with the late Dr. Leon Thal – one of the leaders in the development and study of therapies for Alzheimer’s before he was killed in a plane crash. Ho’s focus on both clinical care and research put him in a good position to open what was the first private comprehensive memory evaluation center in the county in 2007, he noted.

Its mission is to identify problems earlier so they can identify resources to help make the quality of life better, he said. “The traditional, popular notion is that some people, as they get older, have memory issues – that it’s natural or normal.”

If a person is “really forgetful” and losing things, if there are patterns, it is probably not normal and the individual needs to be evaluated even if it does not seem to be affecting their everyday life, he said, adding that memory loss progresses slowly. The cause may not be Alzheimer’s but rather dementia with Lewy bodies or vascular dementia.

“We know the brain cells are falling apart for an unknown reason,” Ho said. “There are no cures, but we need planning to make the rest of life successful.”

While PCND is a general neurology practice, the allied Center for Memory and Aging is dedicated to evaluation and care of those with memory, cognitive or dementia issues. The center’s staff also conducts clinical drug trials and ongoing research. In an effort to learn more and utilize their knowledge base, the center has established a cognitive registry that compiles information about patients.

“It’s a gold mine to learn more about memory,” Ho said.

Patients who come to the center, either by referral from their primary physician or word of mouth, are seen by a team that includes geriatric neurologists, neuropsychologists and geriatric social workers. Their evaluation protocol includes a pencil-and-paper test, neurological exam, tests for biomarkers – things that can be measured such as blood tests, MRI results, and spinal fluid that provide information about the progression of a disease. Family members and friends are also interviewed to give the team members external observations, Ho said.

Seating for Ho’s lecture is limited. Call the Senior Center to reserve your space at (858) 756-3041.