Alzheimer’s Disease, a Growing Epidemic
Many organizations, such as the National Institute of Health and Alzheimer’s disease Association are committed to the global effort of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Since 1983, the number of Americans with the disease has more than doubled. In the United States, the statistics on Alzheimer’s disease and the effects it has on families can be overwhelming:
- Nearly 5.4 million people have Alzheimer’s disease.
- 6th leading cause of death.
- Affects 1 of every 3 seniors over the age of 65.
- Annual health care costs are estimated at $236 billion.
- 15.9 million family and friends provided 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care.
A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association describes some promising evidence that the rates of dementia, in people 65 years and older, may be declining. This could be a positive sign that many of the efforts in the research community and awareness programs are working.
Why is Alzheimer’s disease Difficult to Study?
The brain is a very complex organ and difficult for researchers to study. The skull prevents easy, physical access, and surgeons need to be very careful, because minor damage can have dramatic effects. Even with the latest neuronal maps made by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the connections between neurons are different for every individual, much like a fingerprint. Adding to this complexity is the delicate balance of fluids and neurotransmitters that spark thoughts and actions.
For a physician to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, physical exams are used in conjunction with cognitive testing to rule out other diseases. “Now, there are amyloid PET scans that can detect plaque formations in the brain,” explained Dr. Kelli K. Maw, Principal Investigator at Meridien Research. “If those plaque formations are found, means there is a high likelihood for Alzheimer’s disease. Also, there is genetic testing for the APOE e4 allele which indicates a high risk for Alzheimer’s disease.” Innovative tests are being discovered to protect patients from harm and to give doctors more concrete ways to diagnose their patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia and Early Stages of Alzheimer’s disease
As people age, they may not communicate as well, or have problems with their short-term memory, yet they maintain a healthy store of long-term memories and the ability to continue to care for themselves. Many people associate dementia with aging, but it is not a part of the normal aging process. Dementia has a very broad definition that pertains to chronic memory loss, changes in personality and the ability to think—all severe enough to affect daily activities. There are many causes of dementia, such as stroke, cardiovascular disease, and injuries or trauma to the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is another cause of dementia.
“Alzheimer’s disease requires a specific diagnosis that’s not just memory loss,” said Dr. Maw. “The criteria for a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease focuses on the rate of decline of memory and executive functions, and some problems with language, visual-spatial orientation and personality changes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.”
The early stages of Alzheimer’s disease can be very difficult to diagnose because a person can still function independently. They are also able to work and be social, regardless of their frequent lapses in memory or concentration. It’s typically the family members and close friends who begin to notice the subtle changes in their loved one.
Early Stage Research
One of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of amyloid plaque in very specific areas of the brain. The plaque cuts off nutrients and prevents regular cellular functions, leading to the death of neurons. Recent discoveries and advances in medications are focused on breaking up the plaque and preventing it from building up, again.
Early diagnosis and treatment can possibly prevent cell death and stem the damage caused by the disease. Treating the disease before it causes more damage may be the key to overcoming the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Decades of research may offer hope for individuals and families who are dealing with this dreadful disease. Physicians and their patients have more options to treat the disease and getting closer to curing Alzheimer’s disease through clinical trials of the latest medications.
If you would like more information regarding the clinical research studies being conducted Meridien Research, please call 888-777-8839 or go to the Studies page of our website as we have six sites located in Central Florida.