Alzheimer’s Disease seems to be twice as prevalent than originally estimated, a new study shows. Experts fear that not only does the new information provide worrisome news but that the number of those affected may still be vastly underestimated.
A team of USC (University of Southern California) researchers have found that, after analyzing 10 years of data collected by the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, biomarkers that presage the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease have been detected in twice as many people as official numbers would indicate. As Forbes contributor David DiSalvo points out, there are roughly 5.4 million people in the United States that are in some stage of the disease — officially. That would place some 11 million people actually with Alzheimer’s, if the researchers findings are accurate.
Michael Donohue, lead author of the study associate professor of neurology at USC and lead author of the study, said in a press statement, “This study is trying to support the concept that the disease starts before symptoms, which lays the groundwork for conducting early interventions.”
Paul Aisen, senior study author and director of the USC Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute (ATRI) at the Keck School of Medicine, says that more studies are needed that focus on people that are prone to the disease but before they present with Alzheimer’s symptoms.
“The reason many promising drug treatments have failed to date is because they intervened at the end-stage of the disease when it’s too late,” Aisen says.
“The time to intervene is when the brain is still functioning well — when people are asymptomatic.”
As DiSalvo notes, the research should prompt more research into Alzheimer’s in its earlier stages. This is territory where medical intervention would be best used to make a difference in the life of the patient. At present, some 80 clinical trials for a range of treatments of the chronic neurodegenerative disease are in progress in the United States alone. All of the trials target ways of preventing or decreasing the accumulation of amyloid plaques.
Amyloid plaques are comprised of the toxic protein amyloid beta and are found to accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Those showing elevated levels of amyloid beta in their brains — and yet show no symptoms of Alzheimer’s — will develop the disease within 10 years.
New statistics from the Centers for Disease Control estimate that the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s has increased by 50 percent in the last 15 years. Furthermore, it is estimated that one in ten Americans aged 65 or older have Alzheimer’s (according to the U.S. Census Bureau, that was nearly 48 million people in 2015) — but experts believe that the estimates are low. A better understanding of the disease and what causes it will, as DiSalvo says, provide information to help detect Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages, likely increasing the number of people diagnosed.
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