Like a powerful wave, the Alzheimer’s epidemic is expected to crest in 2050. At that time an estimated 16 million Americans will be living with this mind-robbing disease. (About 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease today.) In an effort to head off the explosion, President Obama has signed into law the National Alzheimer’s Project Act.
This ambitious project aims to attack Alzheimer’s on several fronts:
Improving early diagnosis. The brain changes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease probably begin years before memory loss and other problems appear. Earlier diagnosis could help families better plan for the future, and could be especially important if better treatments become available.
Finding effective prevention and treatment strategies. Today’s treatments relieve symptoms for only a short time; none prevent or stop Alzheimer’s-related mental decline. New treatments that are more durable would be a huge boon to current and future Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Providing more family support. Spouses and adult children are the primary caregivers for many people with Alzheimer’s disease. The day-to-day challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be daunting. Many caregivers have no training and don’t know what resources are available to them. The project would provide better education and support for caregivers.
A newly released draft of the project, which a panel of experts is reviewing this week, sets a 2025 deadline for achieving these and other goals. One big drawback—the act doesn’t provide concrete details about how to fund the research and implementation efforts needed to meet the goals.
Although organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association are bullish on the act, some experts are skeptical. “While it is always helpful to call attention to the disease, I worry that efforts like these are mostly window-dressing,” Dr. Sam Gandy, a professor of Alzheimer’s disease research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay. “There are no funds attached, and there are no basic scientists on the panel. I don’t see how they can seriously discuss cure without basic science input. I would also say that 2025 is way, way too optimistic.”
What do you think we should be doing to fight Alzheimer’s disease? Leave a comment. If you have any thoughts on the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, send the organizers your feedback. To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, and about caring for someone with it, take a look at A Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease, a Special Health Report available from Harvard Health Publishing.