Dementia is the umbrella term for the symptoms some older adults experience as they slowly lose their sense of self and their cognitive abilities. Alzheimer’s disease causes about 60% – 80% of dementia. In the United States, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds. When do we get to the task of curing Alzheimer’s?
By the year 2050, we expect to live past 80. We see the need for a cure continue to grow, but the funding for research of Alzheimer’s is shrinking.
Before they can even test potential cures, scientists must be able to identify appropriate test subjects. I’ve written past blogs about the importance of early diagnosis. Once patients are fully symptomatic, curing Alzheimer patients become less likely. So the focus of Alzheimer’s research is finding people in the early stages of the disease.
3 Hurdles to Curing Alzheimer’s
Health and Science reporter, Katherine Ellen Foley, shares the 3 major challenges in getting new drugs to market:
- Doctors can’t see evidence of the disease until it’s too advanced to cure. By the time cognitive issues show up, the neurons have already been damaged beyond repair. The drugs simply do not exist to reverse the conditions that may have been building over the last 10-20 years.
- There are no reliable tests for the early stages. There is a danger in prescribing Alzheimer’s medication to someone suffering memory loss due to other forms of dementia or aging. However, scientists have identified the amyloid plaques that cause all the damage and are in the earliest stages of creating a blood test to find these early markers.
- Scientists can’t gather enough test asymptomatic test subjects for an effective long-term study. The good news is that researchers are now working with the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network. These people are genetically guaranteed to show Alzheimer’s symptoms in their 40s and 50s. While this is only a sliver of the population (only about 1% of all Alzheimer’s patients), it’s a good starting place.
Pharmaceutical Companies Don’t See the ROI
Of course, all of this research requires funding. Historically, the pharmaceutical industry has been behind a lot of medical research, expecting to recover costs through future drug sales.
Many studies have found early lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, social engagement) to play a role in reducing the risk for developing Alzheimer’s. As Foley reports, “Without the promise of a big payoff, it’s doubtful pharmaceutical companies will fund studies to explore lifestyle interventions.”
We are banking on the research efforts in the science community to find some practical results for curing Alzheimer’s disease. With or without the medication, it is important that we each prepare for our own lifestyles in our later years. I’m happy to report that my clients with Long Term Care insurance (LTCi) have built their own safety net that will enable them and their family members some peace of mind.
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