There are not many diseases that provoke fear as much as Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Assocation, Alzheimer’s Diseases is the second most feared disease in the United States—only behind cancer.
Why Alzheimer’s Matters
This might be because most people have had experience with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly three quarters of people in the United States know or have known someone with Alzheimer’s. And 42% of people in the United States have or have had family members with Alzheimer’s.
Additionally, Alzheimer’s Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Over 5 million Americans are living with the disease. Another way of looking at this statistic is that every 66 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.
In fact, many people are shocked to learn that Alzheimer’s Disease kills more people in this country than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined!
And the disease is only becoming more pervasive. An example that illustrates the spread of Alzheimer’s is: “Since 200, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14% while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 89%.”
The disease can be crippling for the person affected and their families. Many family members have to become caregivers. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “35% of caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s or another dementia report that their health has gotten worse due to care responsibilities, compared to only 19% of caregivers for older people without dementia.”
If these statistics aren’t alarming enough, the disease also costs the United States $259 billion in 2017 alone. Estimates predict that these costs could escalate to $1.1 trillion by 2050.
The Future of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s Disease is more than just losing memory. As Joseph Jebelli, a British neuroscientist and author of In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s, explained on NPR, “Losing your keys, forgetting where you put your glasses, is completely normal,” he says. “But when you find your glasses and your keys and you think, ‘What are these for?’ — that’s a sign that there’s something else going on, that it’s not just a memory loss.”
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative condition that causes degradation in memory, cognitive ability, and personality. Unfortunately, the cause of the disease is not fully understood. Two consistent markers of the disease are the buildup of amyloid protein and neurofibrillary tangles made of protein tau in the brain.
Even though there is much uncertainty surrounding Alzheimer’s, much progress has been made over the past decade in our understanding of the disease. According to Dr. Ronald Petersen at the Mayo Clinic, the ability to observe the living brain and see changes associated with Alzheimer’s symptoms has come very far because of new imaging technologies.
These new technologies are helping doctors better determine who does and does not have Alzheimer’s. This new ability to differentiate between people who have the disease and who are, instead, experiencing memory lost due to old age may make a huge impact in scientific breakthroughs for Alzheimer’s treatment.
As neuroscientist, Joseph Jebelli explains, “lots of the old drug trials have failed because — we think — that actually many of the people in the drug trials didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease. They just had sort of a normal, healthy forgetting.”
However, Alzheimer’s treatment is currently lacking greatly.
“The current medication for Alzheimer’s disease is approved, essentially, because it’s better than nothing. There’s nothing else at the moment. … These drugs were pioneered in the ’70s and ’80s and they treat the symptoms, as opposed to the underlying biology,” Jebelli told NPR.
And these drugs only help approximately 60% of patients for only six months to a year, which is better than nothing. But much more effective treatment is desperately needed.
Research is unfolding quickly not only in regards to how Alzheimer’s Disease works, but also in how to possibly treat it. Jebelli explains that there is new, burgeoning research on, “neural stem cells that suggests that actually there are populations of cells in the brain that may provide regeneration, that may actually give birth to new neurons in the brain. And some scientists think that if we can figure out where these populations of neural stem cells are — and if we can figure out what the biochemical and genetic messages are that activate these cells — that we can develop a drug to switch those on, essentially, to allow the brain to heal itself.”
Scientists are hopeful that in ten years, if we don’t have a cure, we will certainly have a much better treatment than what exists today.
Organizations to Support
If you are one of the three quarters of people that know or have known someone with Alzheimer’s and would like to join the fight against this terrifying disease, there are some great organizations that are making progress effectively and transparently. These two charities are ranked highly by the charity rating organization, Charity Navigator, and are making significant strides in the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America or AFA is a high rated charity with a score of 95.79 out of 100 according to Charity Navigator. Their mission is straightforward: “Helping more people today than we did yesterday.”
AFA aims to provide optimal care and services to people confronting dementia, and to their caregivers and families through member organizations dedicated to improving quality of life.
AFA also raises awareness of the disease and educates healthcare professionals and the public at large about the nature of it. Through education and awareness, this charity removes the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s, prompts the utmost utilization of community resources, and promotes the knowledge necessary for early detection and treatment.
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation
The slogan for Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation is: “Dedicated to funding research into the cause, care and cure of Alzheimer’s Disease.”
This charity has received an even higher score of 98.98 out of 100 from Charity Navigator.
This organization primarily funds the work of the Nobel Laureate Dr. Paul Greengard and his team of renowned scientists as they work to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. They have made significant progress that hold the promise of the development of new treatments.
The Fisher center also funds Dr. Barry Reisberg at NYU’s Medical Center. Doctors all around the world use his ‘Clinical Stages of Alzheimer’s’.
Alzheimer’s disease is feared greatly throughout the nation for logical reasons. However, much promise is held within recent developments in Alzheimer’s research. If you wish to support the fight against this disruptive disease, visit www.alzinfo.org or www.alzfdn.org