Alzheimer's is one of the biggest challenges that medical professionals, caregivers and patients face.
About 10 percent of the U.S. population aged 65 and older has some form of Alzheimer's, according to the latest information published by the Alzheimer's Association in its 2017 Facts and Figures presentation. The vast majority - 82 percent - of those individuals are 75 years of age or older. The threat of Alzheimer's, in its various permutations, is already taken extremely seriously, and now the magnitude of the issue is about to increase by a notable margin.
Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 65 or older has Alzheimer's.
Most of the baby boomer generation is on the cusp of retirement age. When those belonging to this demographic cross it, the 65-and-older population in America will go up drastically. Census Bureau data notes that it will reach about 88 million by 2050 - a massive uptick of just under 100 percent. As such, Alzheimer's research and treatment will only become even more of a priority.
The Facts and Figures report identifies the primary concerns that will factor into the diagnosis, research and treatment of this disease going forward. The continuous development of drugs and other treatments, as well as an increased focus on elder care that takes family members of Alzheimer's patients into account, will also be important.
Re-emphasizing the importance of biomarkers
The National Institutes of Health identify biomarkers as "objective indications of a mental state observed from outside the patient ... [that] can be measured accurately and reproducibly." Some of these are proteins, acids and other substances found throughout the human body, while others are biological processes. Per the Alzheimer's Association's findings, they are being viewed as the most important precursor to an Alzheimer's diagnosis.
Not all of the biomarkers that prefigure Alzheimer's have been identified. However, doctors and researchers do agree that the presence of the proteins tau and beta-amyloid in large amounts - and amassing at a rapid rate - within the brain or in certain body fluids is often a sign of Alzheimer's. These biomarkers can be detected through brain imaging and tests of patients' blood or cerebrospinal fluid. Changes in the size and metabolic aspects of the brain are also considered relevant biomarkers.
There is yet to be a reliable test developed that indisputably determines an Alzheimer's diagnosis. Certain people will show notable levels of the biomarkers but none of the commonly accepted Alzheimer's symptoms - and never develop them. Similarly, 10 to 30 percent of those who passed away due to diagnosed Alzheimer's complications did not show any of those signs. If more tangibly measurable biomarkers of Alzheimer's are found, they could together form the basis of a conclusive test that adults can take decades before they reach retirement age and start treatment before any cognitive issues arise.
Continued efforts toward prevention
Alzheimer's still remains incurable. Researchers at medical centers and drug companies have not succeeded in developing treatments to prevent or cure it, but efforts in this avenue continue.
No test that indisputably determines an Alzheimer's diagnosis has yet been developed.
According to The Globe and Mail, the drugs being crafted target beta-amyloid "plaque" - large buildups of amyloid protein in the brain - and attempt to either eradicate the substance or stop further development. Neither approach has worked: In February 2017, pharmaceutical conglomerate Merck ceased study of its amyloid-inhibiting drug after clinical trials showed no positive signs.
However, these setbacks have not impeded researchers' efforts. Dr. Sandra Black, a Toronto-based researcher specializing in medical science, told the news source, "We learn from every mistake."
Other prototypical drugs in various stages of development will focus on the tau proteins associated with Alzheimer's, as well as the immune system - the latter, in its attempts to attack amyloid plaque, can actually exacerbate brain damage. Researchers believe a cocktail of drugs attacking different aspects of the disease will provide the best chance of success.
Expanded approach to caregiving
Whether an Alzheimer's-curing drug is five years in the future or 50, those diagnosed with the disease need to receive care as soon as possible. But family members and professional caregivers - particularly those who live with their patients - experience significant stress.
The Alzheimer's Association's report addresses the need for Alzheimer's care strategies to include assistance to caregivers. These plans of care will involve a considerable degree of personalization, as the needs of every patient and his or her family are different. Assistance tactics for caregivers often include joint counseling for family members and care recipients, cognitive-behavioral therapy for caregivers who feel burned out (and if necessary, extended breaks from their duties), and support groups where caregivers can bond and share strategies. Ideally, the proliferation of this multifaceted approach will improve the quality of care for all involved and mitigate, at least in part, the burden of this disease.
Source: Sunrise Senior Living