While I try to remain a positive outlook on Alzheimer’s disease with the hope that a cure or at least a slowing or reversing of the disease will soon be discovered, reversing the course remains something of a mystery with no real end in sight. According to the Alzheimer’s Association in its March newsletter, “The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing — and growing fast. An estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.” Of these an estimated 5.3 million are age 65 and older while the other 200,000 are under 65 and have younger onset Alzheimer’s. Because of the overall increase in the number of people age 65 and older in the United States, the number of new cases is expected to soar. Just one more dismal fact before we try to get positive: since 2000, deaths from heart disease have decreased 14 percent, however deaths from Alzheimer’s have risen 89 percent.

Reading these statics is staggering – in fact I was certain that I had misread or that the information had been a misprint. Unfortunately, the numbers are true. Heart disease research and new medications have helped lower the fatality rate and we celebrate that. But living longer means life spans more years and the chance of the brain becoming entangled in dementia as dendrites and synapses loose their ability to power thought and reasoning increases. Of the wide range of dementias, Alzheimer’s is predominant. So the heart stays strong and we live longer only to lose cognitive power as the brain deteriorates. The same is true with other diseases where a cure is imminent: live more years, perhaps, but under what potential debilitating conditions?

Current research is advancing the development of Alzheimer’s biomarkers including those that detect the possibility of the disease in the blood or cerebral spinal fluid. Neuroimaging is also a top research priority. These have the potential to change how Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed and maybe uncovering indicators early enough that changes in diet, exercise, or medication might halt progression. So, yes, there are rays of hope if not for this generation (mine), at least for those in the future.

Scientists at several medical research facilities across the US have noted the relationship between glucose and Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with diabetes, for example, who have declining glucose levels often develop cognitive impairment because glucose is unable to enter cells. Experiments with mice who are deprived of glucose finds that the mice perform worse on maze tests because the brain becomes less functional. These studies hopefully will lead to the development of a drug to allow glucose to continue to enter cells and prevent cognitive decline.

I have been studying research on infants and children who live under deprived or negligent cognitive conditions. These are home where books are non-existent and non-conversation, video game babysitting, and television thrive. A love of words and reading expand brain power and allow young minds to grow and develop as millions of dendrites and synapses create millions of connections each day. Young minds develop exponentially when opportunity to wonder and imagine exists. And so it should be with elderly minds. A mind that lives in a world of conversation, interaction, and interconnectivity is a mind that can function at higher levels. Sadly, this extra boost may not last forever but every minute counts for reduced frustration and mental disengagement.

Ending Alzheimer’s disease is a lofty and expedient goal for our country. Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the US cost over $259 billion in 2016, and that is not including the overwhelming burden placed on caregivers of individuals with this terrible disease. What would we do without all of those courageous beings who give heart and soul in the care of others? Every day, day in day out, spouses, children, and caring family and neighbors provide dedicated service to those who can no longer care for themselves.

April 5th is Nevada Alzheimer’s Awareness Day at the Nevada legislature. On this day hundreds of concerned Nevadans gather to chat with politicians about this disease, to offer facts, and to share the critical need for increased funding for research and support for furthering public education and in-state health care. I have found it to be a tremendous chance to visit with lawmakers in the hopes that they will listen and care enough to help support our cause. Want to join us? Please contact me for more details.