Today's Alzheimer's picture still bleak. But what about tomorrow?

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Brain MRI-Alzheimer's

A new report from Alzheimer's Disease International continues the drumbeat of depressing, indeed scary, data on this devastating condition: More than 35 million people around the world live with dementia, including its most common form Alzheimer's disease (AD). That number is expected to more than triple by 2050, to 115 million people with dementia. Due to it s increasing longevity statistics, the United States is expected to see a tripling in rates by 2050, a March report from the Alzheimer's Association found, with the number of affected Americans jumping from 5.2 million now to more than 13.8 million over the next few decades. Along with the personal and family disruption these tragedies provoke, the healthcare costs are enormous and growing, predicted to bankrupt our healthcare system within decades if this trend continues.

Some hope may be in the offing: A $33 million grant from the NIH to support research into AD prevention was announced recently. As of now, there are essentially no effective drugs to prevent or even slow-down the deadly course of the mind-sapping disease. One reason for this: it has been shown that by the time clinical signs of AD have appeared, it is too late to impact AD s progression significantly the pathological changes in the brain are too far gone. In fact, a new study from scientists in Toronto Canada, found that based on their analysis of numerous well-done reports even in mild cognitive impairment, the current pharmacopeia has no beneficial effect on cognition while accounting for numerous unpleasant side-effects.

Which is why the current approach lends some hope. After many years wasting time trying various types of therapies with little in the way of plausibility and less data showing any benefit, the current grants are going to study various treatments on people before they become symptomatic. The subjects selected for trials will be among those who carry a specific gene (called ApoE4) which greatly increases their chances of getting AD. Accumulating a large database of vulnerable patients and doing prospective intervention (treatment vs. placebo) trials to assess differences in outcomes between treated groups and controls will, eventually, lead to effective treatments or so it is hoped.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross had this perspective: This is the only possible way medical science can ever hope to make inroads against AD and stave off the tidal wave of dementia that otherwise promises to overwhelm us both personally and societally. To just throw up our hands and say, Well, nothing we have works, let s just keep our fingers crossed is not the way science works. We cannot afford that sort of thinking now, and these grants are the first real sign that progress may be in the offing.