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Alzheimer's Cases Are Expected to Double By 2060 and We're Not Ready for It

An Alzheimer's patient is shaved by his daughter at his house. Photograph by Raul Arboleda via AFP/Getty Images

A National Institutes of Health-funded (NIH) study presents a sobering projection: The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s or cognitive impairment will more than double to 15 million by 2060, fueled by an aging population. And, by using a new kind of methodology which incorporates people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, the researchers determined that about 6 million U.S. adults have Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment.

The new method of calculation may be more precise than current tactics and could present an opportunity to assess Alzheimer’s-prevention techniques. “For the first time, scientists have attempted to account for numbers of people with biomarkers or other evidence of possible preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, but who do not have impairment or Alzheimer’s dementia. People with such signs of preclinical disease are at increased risk to develop Alzheimer’s dementia,” wrote the NIH in a press release. “The researchers say they factored those rates of transition in their multi-state model; further, the model can estimate the impact of some possible prevention efforts on the number of future cases.”

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Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In America and abroad, the condition (and other dementia and cognitive decline conditions) are expected to balloon in the coming decades—an ironic side effect of growing life expectancy across the globe. The trouble is that there aren’t really any drugs that tackle the root of Alzheimer’s rather than just its symptoms. Companies attempting to innovate in the space, like Eli Lilly and Merck, have been hit with costly failures (although Biogen is still marching forth in its efforts). And some scientists even disagree with each other about what, exactly, it is that should be targeted in the hunt for a cure.

The dearth of treatment options ups the ante for finding effective prevention techniques, whether they be diet, exercise, “brain games,” or other activities; but the first step in assessing those options is getting the numbers right—which is the broader goal of this new methodology.

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