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Alzheimer's Disease On The Rise

The incidence of Alzheimer's disease is projected to triple in the next fifty years, according to a recent study (Archives of Neurology; 8/03). According to the study's conclusions, people aged 85 and older will be the most significantly affected.  Because of the gender gap in this population, this means that women will be disproportionately affected, both as patients and as caregivers.

Alzheimer's disease currently affects roughly four and a half million Americans.  Unless new preventive and/or therapeutic information and treatment options are discovered, the prevalence will increase significantly.  This study estimated that by the year 2050, sixty percent of people with Alzheimer's disease will be over the age of 85.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, a progressive disease which causes a decline in thinking, memory and language skills.  It is associated with physical decline as well as significant lifestyle and care challenges. While the cause of Alzheimer's disease is unknown, risk factors include aging, genetics, family history and vascular disorders.  While the onset of Alzheimer's disease is usually gradual and begins after age 65, it can begin as young as age 40 and the course of the disease may vary significantly from patient to patient.

Researchers are actively evaluating new treatments for Alzheimer's disease.  Current investigations into Alzheimer's prevention and treatment are focusing on the potential role of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), vitamin E and other anti-oxidants, as well as dietary factors.  Because Alzheimer's disease affects women disproportionately, the relationship between estrogen and Alzheimer's disease has been a focus of many research studies. Until recently, a prevailing hypothesis was that estrogen might serve a protective role against Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, recent data from the Women's Health Initiative (Journal of the American Medical Association, 5/28/03) did not support that belief.  In that study, conjugated estrogens did not protect women against Alzheimer's disease and may have even slightly increased their risk of developing it.  While this study was discouraging, additional research is needed on other forms of estrogen and in younger populations before this theory is rejected.

Created: 10/29/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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