Alzheimer’s Tennessee luncheon, November 2019.
Alzheimer’s disease is listed as the 6th leading cause of death in the US. What is the state of survival in terms of cure or slowing the progression? The outlook can be viewed with cautious optimism.
Much research is done in the field of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. More is understood about the disease process. What we do know about dementia prevention is what works to treat our heart health works for dementia too. At least, to a certain extent. Eating a Mediterranean diet, getting exercise and not smoking have been shown to help prevent dementia. Research is uncovering more causative factors that will eventually lead to more treatments.
Some things are unchanged about Alzheimer’s and all dementia diseases as a whole. There is still no cure in sight. There are no new medications in the pipeline. The drugs that are currently in use do not slow or stop progression of the disease. The medications available help those with dementia think more clearly and perform daily, basic activities like dressing and bathing. This is not ideal in terms of a cure but helpful with the “in the moment” problems associated with dementia. Eventually, though, the medications stop working because the disease naturally worsens.
Is there anything new or promising to treat dementia? Progress in the treatment of dementia will be in tiny increments, not blockbuster drugs or amazing discoveries. Not in the next few years anyway. It is doubtful that dementia will ever be a curable disease. That is not to sound depressing or negative; it’s being realistic.
What we will see are baby step improvements in treatments. We will see people with dementia living more normal lives for longer periods of time beyond what we see today. Today the average dementia patient will need a caregiver within 1-3 years of diagnosis. They generally die within 5-10 years of diagnosis due to the disease. With future interventions, those years of independence will be extended to ten years and beyond. Therefore, instead of a cure, we will see people living better with the disease. Just like any other chronic disease process, dementia will follow a similar pattern of diagnosis, treatment, then ongoing changes in treatments as they become available and as the disease worsens. A similar example of another chronic disease is hypertension. Most people treated for hypertension start with one drug then a few years later another is added when the hypertension worsens. All chronic diseases worsen. This is why medications are changed or added to the regimen. The treatment of dementia will be no different because, like other chronic diseases, it worsens too.
Looking ahead, we will all need to make adjustments in how we view dementia. Don’t wait for a cure that will not happen. Rather, plan on seeing an extended, albeit changed (for the better) form of the disease. Mom or dad will still need a caregiver but maybe later in the disease and for a longer amount of time.*
*Views are strictly the author’s.
Brian Tuggle, speaking at Alzheimer’s Tennessee luncheon, November 2019.