New Hope For Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease With Medication
Alzheimer’s disease has long presented serious problems for older Californians and their loved ones. Over half a million Californians, 55 and over, are living with the disease – accounting for one-tenth of all Americans with Alzheimer’s. According to the California Alzheimer’s Disease Program, this number is expected to nearly double by 2030, growing to over 1.1 million. Among Latinos and Asians living with the disease, the number is expected to triple within that timeframe.
The steep rise in the prevalence of the disease is due mainly to a rapidly aging population. Adults 55 and over have a one in eight chance of developing Alzheimer’s. For adults 85 and older, the risk factors go up significantly to roughly 50%. Not good news for California’s aging Baby Boomer population.
Younger adults are not immune. It’s estimated that over 500,000 Americans in their 30s, 40s and 50s suffer from either Alzheimer’s Disease or related dementia, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
In addition to the human cost, the financial burden for caring for adults with Alzheimer’s disease is also immense. According to the California Alzheimer’s Disease Program:
The total annual costs to all payers for the care of people with Alzheimer’s disease will increase from $172 billion in 2010 to $1.08 trillion in 2050. Medicare costs for the care of people with Alzheimer’s will increase more than 600 percent, from $88 billion in 2010 to $627 billion in 2050. Medicaid costs will increase 400 percent, from $34 billion in 2010 to $178 billion in 2050. Out-of-pocket costs to people with Alzheimer’s and their families will increase more than 400 percent, from $30 billion in 2010 to $157 billion in 2050.
Until recently, there have been no known treatments available to prevent or cure the disease. Rather, healthcare providers and support organizations have focused their efforts on managing symptoms, improving functioning and providing assistance for families caring for patients.
According to a July 23 article published in USA Today, this could change. A trial is currently underway for a new medication called solanezumab to see if it can prevent symptoms of Alzheimer’s:
A $140 million study by the National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly will test the medication, solanezumab, to see if it can prevent the ravages of Alzheimer’s, which include memory loss and decline in cognitive function.
"This is the first time we can intervene long before the extreme damage to the brain has been done," said Dr. Nunzio Pomara, a psychiatrist and director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Research Division at the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research.
The article goes on to say:
Researchers think that Alzheimer’s results from a buildup of a protein in the brain called beta-amyloid. The substance forms a sticky plaque in the brain that scientists think is responsible for the disruption in brain function. But not everyone who has deposits of beta-amyloid in the brain develops Alzheimer’s. And those deposits can be present in the brain for a long time before symptoms appear.
That is why researchers want to study people like Elizabeth Miller and Guy Colanari, who have no symptoms of the disease — even if tests, which both would undergo — show they have some plaque buildup. To be eligible for the three-year study, potential participants between the ages of 65 and 85 have to take sophisticated tests to measure their memory and cognitive skills.
Those who pass an initial screening are given a PET scan, a noninvasive form of nuclear medicine imaging, of the brain, to see if they have a buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain. Study subjects have to be emotionally prepared to live with the knowledge that they have beta-amyloid deposits even if they don’t have symptoms, said Pomara.
Half the subjects who are chosen for the study will monthly receive the experimental drug and half will get a placebo. Results from earlier trials of solanezumab have been mixed, with some showing modest improvement and some showing no change in disease progression.