World Alzheimer’s Day: Closer to a Cure?
Today is World Alzheimer’s Day and I am thrilled to be sharing my stage today with guest writer MARIA RAMOS. PLEASE GIVE HER A WARM WELCOME!
Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.
Alzheimer’s is the most common dementia in the world, and is the sixth most common cause of death in the United States. Over 5 million Americans suffer from the disease, and experts believe that as many as 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s by the year 2050.
World Alzheimer’s Day, held every year on September 21st, is a day used to raise awareness of the disease. Organizations all over the world dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s and dementia call attention to the disease and their own efforts through this combined effort.
Challenges of Alzheimer’s
There are multiple challenges associated with Alzheimer’s – beginning with getting a diagnosis. Regardless of type, people with Alzheimer’s Disease display the same symptoms of forgetfulness and confusion and have trouble doing once-familiar things. Currently, only 10% of Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed while the disease is in its early stages due to symptoms simply being brushed off. Unfortunately, while there are medications that can slow mental deterioration, they only work during the early stages of the disease.
Alzheimer’s is also an expensive disease to treat and the average patient survives for nine years after their diagnosis. It is also emotionally draining for the family, especially if they don’t understand why their loved one, for instance, remembers events from 40 years ago, but not something that happened last week. Worst of all, there is no cure at the moment.
To make matters even worse, experts don’t fully understand what exactly causes Alzheimer’s to develop. Many believe that Alzheimer’s is a multifactorial disease which means it has many possible causes including vascular health, lifestyle, inflammation, and possibly a virus. Many patients will have several of the above factors, which makes determining the exact cause difficult. And yet another problem is the woefully inadequate funding of Alzheimer’s research. In 2010, Congress passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act which mandates finding a way to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s by 2025. The research needed is expected to cost $2 billion a year. This past year, the NIH earmarked $586 million towards Alzheimer’s research — a little more than a quarter of what’s needed.
In March 2015, Australian scientists reported a new technology that could possibly be used to restore the memory of those suffering from Alzheimer’s by clearing up amyloid plaques that form in the brain of sufferers. The new device uses ultrasound to clear away the plaques, but so far scientists have only tested it on mice. They found that the device did no damage whatsoever to any surrounding brain tissue, and that it fully restored the memory function of 75% of the mice. These mice showed marked improvement while performing three memory tests: running a maze, recognizing new objects, and remembering dangerous places. Scientists hope to start testing the technology on humans in 2017.
Scientists have been working with a drug called Solanezumab that also clears away amyloid plaques. This past summer, they completed a 28-week long clinical trial. The results, while promising, show the drug only works on people who begin taking it during the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Another study has found that a component called resveratrol can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Resveratrol occurs naturally in grapes, red wine and dark chocolate making it a very palatable and appealing treatment.
Caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients are increasingly turning to technology for support. They can, for instance, use wearable technology to monitor health and whereabouts. The Lively watch, for example, looks like an Apple Watch and has an alert button the wearer can press to summon help if they fall – caretakers can even set the watch to remind the wearer to take medication.
A senior’s home can also be equipped with sensor technology that will assist in monitoring their bathroom and eating habits. Home automation systems can be programmed to help a senior citizen live independently longer and more safely. Smart devices such as thermostats, security systems, voice-controlled appliances and door locks can be customized and controlled through corresponding smartphone apps. Caregivers are therefore able to monitor activity from afar adding another level of safety and also provide peace of mind.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating illness, but a cure is possible. The Alzheimer’s Association has added Trial Match to their website, a service that enables people to find clinical trials for Alzheimer’s treatments in their area. It’s only a small step, but it’s one in the right direct. World Alzheimer’s Day is a great opportunity for us to raise awareness about not only the disease, but also its symptoms so families are able to properly care for their loved ones. After all, the more people who are aware of the condition and its effects, the more resources and research will be devoted to it, so consider volunteering or even donating to do your part to help the cause and all those affected by it.