According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April entitled “Monetary Costs of Dementia in the United States,” Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia, a chronic disease of aging characterized by progressively worsening memory loss and cognitive decline that interferes with independent functioning, is now the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, having surpassed cancer ($77 billion annually) and heart disease ($102 billion annually) to become America’s costliest disease.
The NEJM report’s abstract notes that estimated prevalence of dementia among persons older than 70 years of age in the United States in 2010 was 14.7% (an alarming 1 person in 7), with the annual monetary cost per person attributable to dementia in a range of estimates from $41,689 to $69,834, suggesting that the total monetary cost of dementia in 2010 was somewhere between $157 billion and $215 billion, with medicare paying only approximately $11 billion of this cost. The researchers also estimate that costs will more than double in the next 27 years, reaching $259 billion by 2040.
Alzheimer’s now affects more than 5.4 million Americans with about 4.1 million of those affected requiring intensive care, and living an average four to eight years after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, some as long as 20 years, with 75 percent of those with Alzheimer’s entering a nursing home by age 80.
Grim metrics indeed, but according to a report by the Dallas Morning News’s Nancy Churnin, some Texas-based Alzheimer’s researchers researchers are optimistic that the trend line can be reversed. Ms. Churnin quotes Dr. Michael Devous, a professor and director of the neuroimaging core for the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, affirming: “I think we’re going to cure Alzheimer’s disease, and we’re not far away from it…. Ten years ago I didn’t think so, but we’ve made tremendous progress,” he says. “We haven’t done it. We haven’t cured anyone from this disease yet, but I’m hopeful that the trials we’ve started will change the course of this disease in a positive way.”
The University of Texas Alzheimer’s Disease Center (UTADC) at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is one of 32 centers funded by the National Institute on Aging to evaluate patients and to conduct scientific research into the cause(s) of Alzheimer’s disease. UT Southwestern takes an interdisciplinary approach with its research team pooling talents to study the nature of Alzheimer’s disease from many vantage points. The UTADC has a strong research focus and conducts studies on brain changes related to healthy aging, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s and other disorders such as Frontotemporal dementia.
Located on the 4th floor of the James W. Aston Ambulatory Care Center at 5303 Harry Hines Boulevard, northwest of downtown Dallas on the UT Southwestern Medical Center Campus, the center also offers individuals an opportunity to participate in clinical research to aid in finding better treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. The Center could not conduct research without the support of many study volunteers. Dr. Devous and his colleagues are seeking more volunteers. You can find more information at http://utsouthwestern.edu/adc or by calling 214-648-0563.
By joining the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry, you can help in the fight to end Alzheimer’s. The Registry is a community of people interested in the possibility of participating in Alzheimer’s prevention studies, now or in the future. Every person who joins will greatly contribute to accelerating research efforts and to and improve the prospect of ending Alzheimer’s before we lose another generation.
Personal information shared will remain confidential and will only be used to inform and potentially connect participants to Alzheimer’s prevention studies. For more information, visit: https://registry.endalznow.org/
Dr. Devous, who is also an Adjunct Professor of Brain and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas and co-Directs the Center for Brain, Cognition and Behavior, was the featured speaker at the Spring Public Forum, presented by the Friends of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center, where he noted that until recently, clinical trials testing the benefits of clearing out a protein that accumulates in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease shared similar outcomes: failure “If we are right that a buildup of amyloid causes Alzheimer’s disease, then why were all these trials failing?” he asked rhetorically, answering: “Because by the time people qualified for treatment, by the time they already had the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, it was too late. The damage had been done.”
That insight, combined with imaging advances that allow experts to measure levels of amyloid in the brain, has changed how researchers conduct clinical trials for Alzheimer’s, with their research focus has shifted from testing on those with dementia, now recognized as a late stage of the disease, to people who have detectable amyloid but no apparent symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Ergo: see your doctor at the earliest hint of onset of memory loss.
Since the presence of amyloid in the brain can precede any symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia by up to 15 years, researchers hope that early intervention can halt or slow its buildup. “It’s a huge change in the design of treatment trials,” Dr. Devous said, noting that one of the biggest advances came a year ago when the Food and Drug Administration approved the first amyloid imaging agent, called Amyvid, for use in positron emission tomography (PET) scans. Amyvid is a radiopharmaceutical that binds to amyloid plaque and “lights up” on a PET scan, allowing radiologists to identify the presence of the harmful protein. It’s being used both clinically and in research projects.
Ms. Churnin also cites UTSW neurologist and director of the cognitive and memory disorders clinic at the Alzheimer’s Disease Center Dr. Mary Quiceno, noting that lifestyle changes can also slow or prevent the growth of plaque. For example, research such as a 2006 study published in the Archives of Neurology have found that a Mediterranean-style diet, light on red meat and heavy on fruits, vegetables, and olive oil may help to fend off or slow the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Quiceno also noted that getting plenty of regular exercise, adequate sleep, socializing and building cognitive reserve by learning new things can also lower the risk for Alzheimer’s, and that persons who are physically fit at midlife have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias later, according to a study published in the February Annals of Internal Medicine by the Cooper Institute in collaboration with UTSW and Cooper Clinic. Conversely, high blood pressure, arterial sclerosis, strokes, clogged arteries, concussions, inflammation and diabetes can accelerate Alzheimer’s progression.
Dr. Mary Quiceno is the director of the Cognitive Disorders & Memory Clinic at UTSW and the leader of the Education & Information Core of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at UTSW. She is active in teaching and clinical research at UTSW and is a board member of the Greater Dallas Chapter of the Alzheimer Association.
2013 Alzheimer’s Symposium Lectures on Video
Through the generous support of the Winspear Family Center for Research on the Neuropathology of Alzheimer’s Disease, the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at UT Southwestern is providing videos of all lectures from its symposium “Vascular Mechanisms in Alzheimer’s Disease and Neurodegenerative Disorders.”