Alzheimer's disease remains a devastating condition currently affecting more than 5 million Americans. This number is expected to nearly triple by 2050.
The current cost of care for Alzheimer's disease in the United States is $203 billion. In the absence of significant advances, this number will rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050 as baby boomers enter their senior years and swell the number impacted by the disease.
Needed advances in treatment will not occur without a significant commitment to research. Currently, for every $27,000 spent on care by Medicare and Medicaid, the National Institutes of Health spends only $100 on research.
Despite this lack of funding, important advances are being made. Several groups are developing better ways to more accurately diagnose Alzheimer's disease. One such effort is the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a large cooperative study involving multiple participating sites across the country.
Hundreds of volunteers, both with and without cognitive impairment, undergo repeated testing including MRI and PET scans, blood tests and spinal fluid examinations over several years. These studies may eventually lead to both an improved understanding of and ability to diagnose Alzheimer's disease.
Though many recent investigational therapies have failed to show a benefit, solanezumab may be a notable exception. This is an intravenously administered medication designed to clear the body of a protein implicated in the development of Alzheimer's disease.
In recent studies, this treatment was felt to significantly slow the progression of Alzheimer's when administered early in the disease, but not in more advanced patients. Patients are now being enrolled in a new trial to confirm these findings.
There is also growing interest in preventative strategies. Several, primarily those aimed at lifestyle modification and risk factor reduction, show promise.
Risk factors include high blood pressure, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and tobacco use. It has been predicted that even a modest reduction in these risk factors could reduce the number of cases of Alzheimer's disease by nearly 500,000 in the United States alone.
Several trials are either underway or being planned to test various strategies targeting vascular risk factors as well as physical and cognitive inactivity in hopes of preventing future dementia.
Despite this progress, barriers still exist. In addition to the lack of funding for research, a critical lack of clinical trials volunteers has been identified. It has been estimated that up to 85 percent of all clinical trials face delays due to poor recruitment, and that up to 50,000 volunteers are needed.
About clinical trials
To find out about Alzheimer's disease-related clinical trials at Baptist Health Lexington, please call (859) 260-4571.
Paula Gisler is administrative director of neurosciences at Baptist Health Lexington.