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Alzheimer’s Numbers Could Triple By 2050, Research Suggests

New study shows that Alzheimer's disease could triple by 2050.

The number of Alzheimer’s patients could triple by 2050, new research indicates. The rise is attributed not just to an increase in the disease, but also to a greater detection and diagnosis.

While Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to potentially fend off the onset of the disease, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia. There have been no medical advances as far as preventing the disease, but greater diagnosis capabilities are going to make Alzheimer’s numbers dramatically increase in the next years.

Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, says that these numbers are based on three specific things: more people getting tested, better diagnosis, and an increase in life expectancy.

The population is living longer, since medical advances have improved life-expectancy by treating other diseases, from heart disease to cancer. The biggest risk for Alzheimer’s, however, isn’t poor health but aging. Therefore, the larger the elderly population, the more the disease is diagnosed.

Doraiswamy says what’s scary is “how hard it will be on America’s health care system.” A big factor will be if medical science can come up with treatments to slow the progression of the disease.

“We’re broke and we’re going go to be really broke,” he said. “It’s expected to add about $2 trillion to our health care budget, and the number of family caregivers is going to go from 15 million to maybe 50 million.”

Tragically, with Alzheimer’s, a diagnosis doesn’t mean a cure. There are, however, some things that people can do to strengthen their bodies. “Being heart healthy, exercising, and trying to eat a diet that’s not too fatty,” suggests Doraiswamy. “And also keeping yourself mentally and socially active.”

Currently an estimated 4.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. The team at Rush Hospital in Chicago writes of the coming increase in the journal Neurology: “These projections emphasize the need to find either prevention or treatment for Alzheimer’s disease dementia in order to decrease the burden of future disease on individuals, families and the medical care system.”

To make matters worse, the potential of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s anytime soon is slim to none. Drug companies and academic researchers are carrying out many trials and we can hope for an unexpected great success, but none have proven very successful.

The FDA has approved five drugs to treat Alzheimer’s. According toNBC News, most physicians say that in a minority of patients they relieve symptoms for a few months.

None of the drugs help the inevitable destruction of the brain that Alzheimer’s is so notorious for.

Drug sales still brought in $2.9 billion in 2011, according to IMS Health. Doctors admit that this is because they want to do anything to offer hope to their patients, and often prescribe medications past their point of effectiveness.

Instead of focusing on a cure that will eliminate or reverse the disease, experts are focusing on early diagnosis to stop or slow down Alzheimer’s. Recent studies of people who carry gene variants that bring on Alzheimer’s at an early age found that brain changes leading to the disease began as early as 25 years before memory loss or other symptoms set in. Drug trials are now looking at people with the gene variant that predisposes them to Alzheimer’s, trying experimental drugs decades in advance to see if they can slow the process.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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