Researchers at Rush Hospital in Chicago on Wednesday projected the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s will triple in the next 40 years, meaning 13.8 million would be suffering from the disease, which is the most common form of dementia, by the year 2050.
The projections were published in the journal Neurology based on interviews with volunteers every three years to monitor the number who developed Alzheimer’s over time.
According to census data on aging baby boomers, the number of Americans aged 65 to 84 will nearly double by 2050, while the number of those 85 and over is projected to nearly quadruple – with an estimated 36.6 per cent of those in that age group projected to have Alzheimer’s by then.
“These projections emphasize the need to find either prevention or treatment for Alzheimer’s disease dementia in order to decrease the burden of future disease on individuals, families and the medical care system,” the research team writes in Neurology.
An estimated 4.7 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s. So far, five drugs have been approved by the FDA for treating it, although physicians say the medications only relieve symptoms for a few months. They do not stop the progression of the disease, nor is there any cure. Experts say early detection is important to allow sufficient time to seek supportive services while managing the progression of the disease.
Last April, the FDA gave the Indianapolis-based drug company, Eli Lilly, approval for a radioactive tracer as part of the push for early detection. The tracer is used in combination with a PET brain scan to measure the build-up of a substance that some experts think is linked to or is the cause of Alzheimer’s. Lilly says the product, called Amylin, can help diagnose Alzheimer’s, while ruling out other causes of dementia.
Other recent studies have researchers investigating a known gene risk factor for Alzheimer’s associated with lower levels of beta amyloid – a brain protein – in older people who are cognitively healthy. The researchers found that there may be a mechanism other than beta amyloid accumulation, which may influence disease risk associated with the gene.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and cognitive skills. Eventually, it interferes with the patient’s ability to carry out even the simplest tasks. Most people with Alzheimer’s first experience symptoms after the age of 60.