WASHINGTON, DC, Oct 5 — In the 20th Century, men and women feared that they might develop heart disease or cancer as they age. “For most of the last century, the leading cause of death in the United States, as measured by actual deaths, was heart disease, followed by cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control [CDC]. People, particularly the elderly, still develop heart disease and cancer, but biomedical science has made great strides in their prevention and treatment, allowing those who are diagnosed with these diseases to have hope.
In the 21st Century, seniors dread the prospect that they may be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, a particularly nasty version of dementia. Though the disease is not deadly, as such, it has a tragic impact on the elderly and their families nonetheless. The National Institute on Aging notes that “Older age does not cause Alzheimer’s, but it is the most important known risk factor for the disease. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease doubles about every 5 years beyond age 65. About one-third of all people age 85 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease.”
Not much can be done to treat Alzheimer’s today other than to provide palliative care, but bioscience is making progress in learning what causes the disease, and causation is critical to learning how to treat the disease. What medical scientists do know is that it is age-related and that family history, diet, and environmental factors play a role. However, what might be called a “breakthrough” in identifying a key physical cause of Alzheimer’s has now been made, and that it could be a game-changer.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association [AA], in addition to the non-physical causes, it is known that beta-amyloid, a sticky compound that accumulates in the brain, may play a major role in the onset of the disease. And it was just reported that scientists in Australia have made a discovery that offers potential new prevention and treatment opportunities for the disease.
Professor John Mamo, director of Australia’s Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, was the lead investigator of the research that revealed the discovery. He says: “While we previously knew that the hallmark feature of people living with Alzheimer’s disease was the progressive accumulation of toxic protein deposits within the brain called beta-amyloid, researchers did not know where the amyloid originated from, or why it deposited in the brain … Our research shows that these toxic protein deposits that form in the brains of people living with Alzheimer’s disease most likely leak into the brain from fat carrying particles called lipoproteins.”
The bottom line, according to Mamo, more research needs to be done, but it may be possible to reduce the risk and slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease by targeting the amyloid threat in a timely fashion using diet and drugs.
Professor Warren Harding, chairman of the Australian advocacy organization, Alzheimer’s WA, Issued a statement on the global impact of the Curtin Institute’s findings: “In Australia, approximately 250 people are diagnosed with dementia daily, adding to the staggering half a million Australians who are already living with dementia. Without significant medical advances like the breakthrough Professor Mamo’s team has made, it is estimated that the number of Australians living with dementia will exceed one million by 2058. This has a significant impact on families, careers and communities.”
Worldwide at least 50 million people are believed to be living with Alzheimer’s disease or other Dementias. The CDC reports that 5.8 million Americans suffer from the disease. This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060. Younger people may get Alzheimer’s disease, but it is less common.