A Grim Forecast on Alzheimer's Disease
Wed, April 21, 2021

A Grim Forecast on Alzheimer's Disease

The number of adults in the United States aged 65 and older was roughly 40 million in a 2010 census, and this is expected to rise to 71 million by 2030, and then to 98 million by 2060 / Photo by: olegdudko via 123RF

 

Dan Gordon, the author of an Alzheimer’s article in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), online publication Newsroom, discussed the UCLA biostatistics team’s forecast on the prevalence of the disease, with its incidence rising continuously. It’s just the fact of life that the longer we live, the more we are faced with issues regarding our health. The number of adults in the United States aged 65 and older was roughly 40 million in a 2010 census, and this is expected to rise to 71 million by 2030, and then to 98 million by 2060. Living longer demonstrates the success of public health strategies, but it also brings a major public health crisis regarding the sharp rise in the number of people living with Alzheimer’s.

 

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Eventually, this will impede the person’s ability to do even the simplest of tasks. Commonly, symptoms appear among those in their mid-60s. This disease, according to the National Institute on Aging, is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the US among older people, behind heart disease and cancer. It is also the most common cause of dementia among older adults. For reference, dementia is the name for a group of brain disorders that make it difficult to think clearly, make decisions, control emotions, and remember. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the disorders. It is the most common in about 60% to 80% of those with dementia and gets worse over time. It happens when proteins and fibers build up in the brain and block nerve cells that result in memory loss. Over time, this worsens in people, making it difficult to carry conversations and perform daily tasks. It also induces confusion, aggression, and various mood changes.

The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who discovered the disease in 1906. He noted and studied the brain tissue of a woman who had died. She experienced memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior before death. Alzheimer found abnormal clumps, called amyloid plaques, and tangled bundles of fibers (known as neurofibrillary, tau, or tangles). He also found the loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and the different muscles and organs in the body among the main features of the disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Eventually, this will impede the person’s ability to do even the simplest of tasks / Photo by:

 

Signs and Symptoms

In order to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the person must have experienced a loss of cognitive function, enough to disrupt usual activities at work and even at home. The major symptoms include reduced ability to take in new information leading to repetitive conversations or getting lost on familiar routes, impairments in reasoning with poor decision-making ability or the inability to plan complex sequential activities, impaired visual abilities, inability to recognize familiar faces and common objects, impaired speaking, reading, and writing, and changes in personality and behavior. An early sign of the disease is changes in sense of humor, which can happen earlier and affect younger people between 30 years old and 60 years old and whose family has a history of the disease, even if the true symptoms don’t appear until later. As time passes, these symptoms often worsen. There is no known cure to stop or slow down the progression of Alzheimer's

Reality Check

Even if in the last few years, numerous studies have reported dementia incidence as falling in the developed world, attributed to better public health, dropping to 40 per 100,000 people in 2007 in populations from regions such as Hong Kong, this conclusion may not tell the whole story. Between the years 2000 and 2017, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 9%, while deaths due to Alzheimer's have increased by 145%.

Ron Brookmeyer, a professor from UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics, wrote in the American Journal of Public Health projecting the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the US to quadruple by the mid-century wherein 1 in 45 Americans will be affected. More specifically, in 2005, 25.73 million people were affected, and this number continues to grow with an estimated 56.55 million in 2030, 77.49 million in 2040, and 106.23 million in 2050. The number of people projected in the late-stage cases of Alzheimer’s who require a high level of care equivalent to that of a nursing home will rise to half of those afflicted in 2050. In 2019, costs related to Alzheimer’s and dementia amounted to $290 billion. By 2050, this is expected to rise as high as $1.1 trillion.

The projected increase in cases of Alzheimer’s represents a “huge public health problem” when you think about the costs associated with caring for the afflicted. With tools and resources available to us today, it is the right time to jumpstart investigations for Alzheimer's. To date, scientists don’t yet understand the full cause of the disease in most people, whether this is a genetic mutation or from a complex series of brain changes that occur over the decades.