Alzheimer’s disease is now debilitating 5.7 million Americans, according to the latest figures.
As death rates for most deadly diseases fall in the US, Alzheimer’s deaths increased by 123 percent between 200 and 2015, and the trend is set to continue.
The degenerative brain disease costs the US thousands of lives and $277 billion each year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual report released Tuesday.
For most people, Alzheimer’s disease will not be diagnosed for 20 years after the brain changes that cause it begin, and the association urges that detecting it in its early stages could save lives and as much as $7.9 trillion in the US.
The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s has increased dramatically in the last five years and is expected to triple, reaching nearly 14 million people by 2050
One out of every 10 people over 65 will be stricken with Alzheimer’s, which is the sixth leading cause of death in US.
The first members of the baby boomer generation reached age 65 in 2011, putting them at elevated risks for Alzheimer’s.
As more and more of the 76.4 million people born between 1946 and 1964 cross the threshold into senior status, Alzheimer’s will only become a bigger problem for America.
The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that 14 million people will have the disease by 2050 if the current trajectory continues.
Even as better methods for preventing, detecting and treating diseases that were once death sentences – like heart disease and cancer – the same has not been true for Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s toll on the US extends well beyond the people that suffer from the disease, as their families dedicate their time and money to caring for their loved ones.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 16.1 million Americans are provide 18.4 billion hours of care to those suffering from the memory-loss disease.
The time that these caregivers dedicate for free would cost $232 billion if it were provided by paid professionals.
Meanwhile, the development of new diagnostic methods and drugs to treat Alzheimer’s has slowed in recent years.
Although there are more than 400 clinical trials investigating treatments, the last Alzheimer’s drug to get Food and Drug Administration approval was a combination of two older treatments. Prior to its approval, the last new drug came to the market in 2003.
Major drug-makers, including Merck, Eli Lilly, Amgen and Biogen have all thrown their hats in the ring to try to bring about the next Alzheimer’s breakthrough.
But last month, Merck shut down what had been widely considered its most promising clinical trial for an Alzheimer’s drug, called verubescestat.
The prevailing theory driving most trials is that treating the precursor proteins to beta-amyloid peptides – compounds that, scientists believe, may cause Alzheimer’s building up in the brains of those with the disease and interrupting communication between regions of the brain – could stop the disease’s progression in its early stages.
Merck’s drug promised to act as an inhibitor to an enzyme, called BACE1, that plays a key role in the production of beta-amyloid peptide.
Its failed clinical trial did not bode well for the other companies, which have also been looking to BACE1 inhibitors as prospective treatments for Alzheimer’s.
However, another study, conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, had surprising success in completely reversing early-stage Alzheimer’s in middle-aged mice with a BACE1 inhibitor.
The study’s findings suggested that if Alzheimer’s could be detected or predicted early enough, its development could be halted entirely.
But early detection itself poses a formidable challenge.
Research has shown that beta-amyloid proteins begin to pile up in the brain as much as 20 years before any outward signs or symptoms of Alzheimer’s become apparent.
So by the time it becomes apparent that someone has the disease, it might already be far too late for a treatment like a BACE1 inhibitor – even if such a drug ever makes it through clinical trials and to the market.
The best hope for early detection is through the development of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s, and the Alzheimer’s Association is throwing its weight behind this and other early diagnosis efforts.
‘Among all Americans alive today, if those who will get Alzheimer’s disease were diagnosed when they had mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – before dementia – it would collectively save $7 trillion to $7.9 trillion in health and long-term care costs,’ the association wrote in its report.