Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of disability. About $183 billion is spent annually on care related to Alzheimer's. It's estimated that this will rise to $1 trillion by 2050.
Much of the current research focuses on early brain changes and early diagnosis with the goal of developing treatments that will effectively halt the progression of this disease. However, until this goal is realized, there remains a need to improve care for those living with Alzheimer's.
Currently available medications provide only modest benefit. A number of experimental treatments are being developed based on the hypothesis that Alzheimer's results from the accumulation of amyloid, a protein thought to be toxic to brain cells.
However, these treatments have been ineffective.
Given the chronic nature of this illness and limited effectiveness of currently available medications, Alzheimer's disease is best managed by multidisciplinary teams consisting of physicians, social workers and other professionals.
Physicians provide expertise in evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. Social workers educate and support the entire family and coordinate various community resources.
The Alzheimer's Association also can be an invaluable source of education and support. Caregiver support can help patients as much as medications do. Physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists, pharmacists and others can help some patients. Hospice and palliative care provide tremendous benefit in late stages of the disease.
There is hope for continued progress. The National Alzheimer's Project Act was signed into law recently . An advisory council has been formed to better understand the scope of this illness and help direct efforts in research and care.
On a local level, researchers from around the country recently paid tribute to the contributions of the late Dr. William Markesbery, longtime director of the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, at the inaugural Markesbery Symposium on Aging and Dementia in Lexington.