Every 67 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. It’s the only disease that has no current preventative measures, ways to slow it down, or cure. Scarier yet, someone with cancer or even HIV has a better chance of surviving and having a better quality of life an someone with this top 10 most deadly disease.
But researchers are confident that they can likely find methods towards slowing or stopping this common and devastating disease within the next five years. This could mean Alzheimer’s and dementia treatments could eliminate medicare costs by half.
Currently, the drugs approved by the FDA are only symptomatic treatments essentially only helping patients do a little bit better for maybe six to twelve months. Yet, the underlying disease remains.
Better diagnostic tools are allowing researchers to view the brain with high-powered imaging through PET (positron emission tomography) scans. Being able to look at the brain in more detail are helping us take a look inside the brain in ways like never before. And thanks to these new looks inside the brain, a new slew of drugs could possibly be entering the marketplace in years to come to help dementia and Alzheimer’s.
But, federal funding needs to increase. Currently under $1 billion is spent a year for research on Alzheimer’s. Yet, in comparison to the $3 billion and $5 billion spent on HIV/AIDS research, we really aren’t providing solutions to our society’s aging brain woes. And, even when researchers are granted funding, the focus has been mainly on beta-amyloid. Otherwise, it was not likely you would receive any grant money over the last 20 years or so. But, lowering these levels doesn’t stop the disease’s progression or how severe it is. Also, PET scans have shown that you can have a lot of amyloid in your brain without any sort of dementia.
Researchers are now pointing fingers at another brain protein that actually may be damaging the cognitive process. See, beta-amyloid forms and builds around the brain’s neurons where as tau forms inside the neurons. It ends up really taking a toll on your brain by heading to nearby cells and infecting them. Therefore, tau may be the thing we should focus on seeing as it may be the most direct player in the development of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
“If [beta-amyloid] unlocks the barn door and let’s the tau out, then tau is the horse that goes running off,” Dr. Diamond of the University of Texas says. “It’s the progression of tau as it moves through your brain that actually causes Alzheimer’s dementia, but it’s the [beta-amyloid] that sets you up to get that pathology.”
The Cost of Alzheimer’s
There are currently 5.3 million Americans over age 65 with Alzheimer’s. This costs our economy about $226 billion to pay for their care. Half of this is currently paid by Medicare. Plus the average cost of care for the last five years of a person with Alzheimer’s life is $278,038. This is way more than the costs for people with heart disease or cancer because these adults are in need of assistance care dressing, eating, etc. that is not covered with insurance.
It has been predicted the number of people with Alzheimer’s will rise to 16 million by 2015. This will cost our country’s economy a crazy 1.1 trillion if we don’t do something to slow down the devastating disease.
The best method of action for a disease that shrinks the brain and kills important neurons is to do something before it’s too late. Acting before the damage is done is the only way that we will be able to help millions of people.