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Going Back to Basics with Alzheimer’s Disease

Did you know that 50 million people have dementia worldwide, including over 5 million people in the United States? The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is growing fast and is already the 6th leading cause of death nationally

There is a lot we still don’t know about this terrible disease and how to prevent and treat AD. September is World Alzheimer's Month, so let’s learn what we can and lift our family and friends affected by this disease, and support organizations doing innovative research and providing much-needed resources. 

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is a broad term that is characterized by signs and symptoms affecting the brain like memory, thinking, behavior, and emotions. There are over 100 different forms of dementia. The most common by far is Alzheimer’s Disease, which makes up 50-60% of all dementia cases

Most people think of older adults when they think of dementia or AD. While the risk of dementia does increase with age, there are two important things to keep in mind:

Dementias can affect people of any age. 

    • Early detection matters. Do you know the warning signs
    • Dementia is NOT a part of the normal aging process. It is a disease.

How Big Is the Problem and What is Being Done?

Today, over 5 million Americans 65 and over suffer from AD. By 2050, that number is estimated to grow to almost 14 million as the U.S. population ages! 

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Alzheimer’s disease puts an enormous strain on:

    • Family – who are the most common primary caregivers for patients with dementia. Caring for someone with dementia requires a lot of time, attention, patience, support, and resources.
    • Healthcare providers – patients with AD and need memory care require specially trained healthcare providers; many say the workforce is not ready for the growing volume of patients.
    • Our country’s resources – In 2020, AD care cost about $305 billion, and by 2050, it is estimated to cost over $1.1 trillion.

This growing problem with no cure and limited treatment options requires everyone’s attention. Luckily, there is a lot of innovative research going on around the globe. Improving care and treatment is a worldwide effort. 

You can read about some of the fascinating innovations and treatments on the horizon on the U.S. Alzheimer’s Association website, the Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) website, and other places. 

To get you started, I picked a couple of recent newsworthy advancements to highlight.

Taking a Step Back

Research and development are usually fast-moving trains that are hard to stop. Lots of time, money, and excitement go into these efforts, and stakeholders want to see things through. It’s not often that you see research organizations pause and reverse course when results aren’t as fruitful as they had hoped. But, that is a responsible thing to do and what is happening for a group of organizations in Seattle.

Recently, several large organizations in the Seattle area have come together to create a new research initiative at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. This new project is funded by a five-year $40.5 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, which is part of the National Institute of Health. 

The focus of this research is going back to basics. They will study what happens at the cellular level during AD progression, rather than jumping right to possible treatments (as mentioned, that research has not been as fruitful as hoped). 

Going back to basics is an interesting and unique approach to research and development, and it’ll be exciting to see what they find out! As I said, there is so much we don’t know about AD and this is a step in the right direction.    

What’s on the Horizon?

Even though there is a focus on going back to basics within some organizations, there is still ongoing research on exciting new treatments, targets for drugs, and prevention efforts. There are currently only five FDA approved drugs that address AD – all of them help to slow progression but do not prevent or cure the disease. 

If you want to read about what is on the treatment horizon, including specific targets of new drugs, details of current studies about prevention, and how to participate in a study, check out the Alzheimer’s Association website

Dementia and AD Require Everyone’s Attention – What Can You Do?

To honor World Alzheimer's Month (or anytime), consider:

    • Spread the word! Share information with your friends and family or through your social media.
    • Donate money to local or national dementia/AD organizations.
    • Participate in an event such as a walk to raise awareness.
    • Volunteer your time – local organizations that help with dementia/AD care and resources can sometimes use help with caregiver respite (e.g., spending time with a patient with dementia while their family caregivers take a break). Reach out and ask about what they may need!
    • For more ideas, check out the Alzheimer’s Association website or contact a local organization in your area.

Reference List

Published September 10th, 2020 by Dr. Audrey Kostrzewa, PharmD, MPH, BCPS

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