Alzheimer's Disease, a Tragic Future for Our Aging Population
An estimated 82 million people will have dementia by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. By 2050, the number of people with dementia in the U.S. will be double what it is today, and 80% of these individuals will have Alzheimer's Disease.
Alzheimer's is a noncurable condition that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. A person can have the beginnings of Alzheimer's for years without any visible symptoms. It progressively worsens over time and never improves.
Most people develop Alzheimer's after age 65, although some people may get Early-Onset Alzheimer's decades earlier.
The greatest factors in getting Alzheimer's is aging and having Alzheimer's in your family. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes also increase the odds. Head injuries and not sleeping regularly contribute to a lesser degree as well.
At first, symptoms may not be very noticeable. Misplaced keys, a lost book, a missed appointment. After all, everyone forgets things on occasion. However, with those suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, memory loss and confusion become more frequent, eventually interfering with daily living. They will also exhibit bouts of unexplained anger, depression and mood swings. Usually, close family and friends are the first to notice that something is not right.
In the long run, a patient suffering from Alzheimer's will need care 24 hours a day. They will not recognize family, will forget basic vocabulary, and not know how to feed themselves or accomplish even the most basic day-to-day tasks without assistance.
The brain of an Alzheimer's patient deteriorates due to the development of a type of plaque in brain cells called beta-amyloid, as well as tangles in nerve cells called tau.
Treatment is limited, as there are only 5 drugs available that slow the progression of memory loss but do not stop it. Sleep drugs, anti-depressants and other mood enhancing drugs are usually prescribed to deal with common symptoms.
We have no way to cure Alzheimer's, nor to restore parts of the brain that have been lost.
Luckily, there are many new drugs in development. Researchers are working on drugs to slow the deterioration of brain cells. Some hope to develop drugs that may one day even prevent Alzheimer's altogether.
If pharmaceutical companies are successful, there may be a much brighter future for the elderly and the world may never reach the 82 million patients currently expected to develop this terrible disease.