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Within a generation Alzheimer's Disease may be halted in its tracks

Ernie Shannon's picture

Recent news that singer Glen Campbell is suffering from Alzheimer's disease drew more attention to what seems to be a growing presence of the disease in the United States. Nearly a year ago, the most successful coach in men's or women's college basketball, Pat Summitt, announced she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Since then, a former congressman from Kansas admitted that he had the disease, and now Campbell.

While the increasing presence of the disease in people with high-profile positions in society lends credence to the feeling that the brain disorder is reaching epidemic proportions, the many thousands more people, unknown except to family, close friends, and co-workers, who are encountering Alzheimer’s is increasing at a worrisome pace.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America announced in October a “no holds barred” assault on the neurodegenerative brain disorder saying there was no time to waste. With nearly 75 million Americans already into or nearing their sixties in the next ten years, prime ground for the disease, the United States is looking at hundreds of thousands more people, maybe millions more coming down with Alzheimer’s than the five million people with the disease today. For a medical system already bending under the weight of costs hard to bare and health reform laws largely untested and unproven, the future is problematic at best.

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This is not to say progress hasn’t been made. Earlier this month a study published in PLoS One highlighted results from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City that show the tau protein has the ability to spread from one region of the brain to another. Understanding how the protein jumps from one cell to another might lead to methods preventing the disease from advancing at least.

“This pattern very much follows the staging that we see at the earliest stages of human Alzheimer’s disease,” said senior study author Dr. Karen Duff at the Columbia University Medical Center.

Halting the spread of the disease in the brain may be the best one can hope for at the moment. There is no cure and current treatment only slows the advancement of the disorder giving patients a little more time. When Glen Campbell announced his Alzheimer’s fight, he also agreed to be interviewed by CNN. During the interview Campbell and his wife said medication has improved his memory somewhat and his still very active performance schedule seems to stimulate his brain.

While Alzheimer’s will pose a significant challenge to the American health care system, not to mention the millions of individuals and families impacted by the disease, more resources than ever before are being trained on the disease and the hope is that within a generation, the disorder will be halted in its tracks and turned back.