World Alzheimer's Day gives us reason to pause

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John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News

Today marks World Alzheimer's Day. And it's as good a time as any to reflect on the damage this fatal disease is spreading.

Alzheimer's has become the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It is the only one in the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

It might be argued that nursing homes should be grateful for Alzheimer 's disease. After all, the illness helps fill many long-term care beds.

But I think we'd all be a lot happier if the condition ceased to exist. Anyone who has seen a loved one crippled by this dreadful illness knows exactly what I mean. As diseases go, Alzheimer's is particularly nasty. It doesn't just steal memories; it robs its victims of who they are.

Across the United States:

  • 5.4 million Americans are living with the disease.
  • One in eight older Americans has Alzheimer's.
  • More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for persons with Alzheimer's and other dementias. 
  • Payments for care are estimated to be $200 billion in the United States in 2012.

Worldwide, more than 36 million people suffer from Alzheimer's. Unless a cure is found, the figure is expected to double by 2050.

While boatloads of money are being poured into finding a cure, the disease has been elusive. Recent clinical trials of medications designed to reduce levels of harmful protein amyloid in the brain, such as bapineuzumab and solanezumab, were ultimately unsuccessful. But many insiders believe that this protein holds the key to finding a treatment.

This year has seen progress in key areas. These include research, therapy guidelines and public funding. Many people who study the illness for a living are hopeful that significant progress is about to take place.  Let's hope so.

The sooner we wonder why there's a special day for Alzheimer's, the better.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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