The natural aging process brings with it a number of unwanted changes. As we age, we experience both physical and mental deterioration. We notice things such as difficulty reading without glasses, the inability to walk for long periods of time without rest, and trouble remembering things as clearly as we once did. None of this, however, compares to what Alzheimer’s does to those afflicted with the disease. In recent years, the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s appears to have grown at an unnatural pace. Whether you are entering your “Golden Years,” or you are the adult child or grandchild of someone who is, the more you know about Alzheimer’s the better prepared you will be if it does strike you or a loved one. For most people in your position, the most important question remains “Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s yet?”
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Like most people, you have probably heard a lot about the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and the race to find both a way to predict who will develop the disease and a way to sure those who do suffer from the disease. Do you really know what Alzheimer’s is though? According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, deterioration of thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex.
Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures
Given the frequency with which Alzheimer’s is discussed in the news media, most of us are aware that Alzheimer’s is a growing problem in the United States; however, you may not realize exactly how big the problem is. Consider the following facts and figures released by the Alzheimer’s Association:
- More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s.
- Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.
- 1 in 3 seniors will die suffering from the disease.
- Someone in the U.S. develops the disease every 66 seconds.
- Since 2000, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased by 89 percent.
- Alzheimer’s kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined.
- 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for people suffering from Alzheimer’s each year
- In 2016, unpaid caregivers provided over 18 billion hours of care, valued at over 230 billion dollars.
Are We Close to a Cure for Alzheimer’s?
With the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s expected to continue to grow at a rapid rate, providing care for Alzheimer’s sufferers may overwhelm the healthcare system in the U.S. in the coming years. The threat of that alone gives researchers plenty of incentive to find a cure. First, however, they need a clear picture of what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike many other diseases, such as AIDS, experts do not believe Alzheimer’s has a single cause. Instead, they believe the disease is multi-faceted with a number of factors influencing the development of the disease. Scientists are currently focusing on amyloid and tau proteins, whose malformation are classic characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease; however, other factors likely help determine who develops the disease, including vascular health, inflammation, lifestyle, and possibly even viral causes. The complexity of the disease makes finding a cure, and even effective treatment for those suffering from the disease, more difficult. While there are some medications on the market now that help slow the cognitive decline that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s for some people, we are not yet close to finding a truly effective treatment regime, much less a cure. The best we can do at this point, it appears, is to do what we can to prevent developing the disease by monitoring diet, exercise, social interaction and cognitive activity.
If you have legal questions or concerns relating to the care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s, contact the experienced New Hampshire elder law attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.