For every one reading this, our common goal is the eventual cure and eradication of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Yet every 69 seconds a person develops this devastating brain disease. Over 5.4 million Americans have AD. With of the Baby Boomer generation, the number is expected to eclipse 7 million by 2030 and 16 million by 2050. One in eight persons, age 65 and older, has AD. Almost 1 in 2 individuals, age 85 and older, has it. AD is the 6th leading cause of death in this country.
The cost of caring for people with AD is about $183 billion every year. Of course, the disease does not just affect the patient; it impacts families, friends, and other loved ones. About 15 million dementia caregivers in the US provide 17 billion hours of unpaid care estimated at $202 billion. Caregivers suffer emotionally and physically from stress-induced disorders and illnesses. Because of the toll on their own health, dementia caregivers added $7.9 billion in additional health care costs in 2010. The financial toll doesn’t compare to the enormous personal impact from stress, sadness and lost dreams. We are in the midst of a crisis growing in size and scope. The most important thing anyone can do in response is volunteer to participate in research.
There have been amazing strides in the scientific community to understand the cause of AD, develop more accurate methods of diagnosis during life and create new treatments that may modify the disease course. Technological advances for diagnosing and treating the disease start in basic science labs where it takes years and numerous experiments to develop a procedure or medicine that can be studied in humans. This is where we need everyone’s help: Getting new treatments or devices, from the early stages of development to FDA approval, for use in human beings is a long and costly journey with many failures along the way. One of the major costs of this journey, in both money and time, is recruitment of individuals to participate in research. It seems surprising to people when hearing this. People sometimes think research centers are bustling with volunteer participants. Even major medical centers with well-known research programs, like the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center (BU ADC), are in tremendous need.
Contributed by Dr. Robert Stern, BU ADC Clinical Core Director and Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at BU School of Medicine. This blog entry was modified from an article in the BU ADC Newsletter (Fall 2011).