We won't be talking about the obesity epidemic any more.
The morbidly obese will be dead (some from Alzheimer's), and the rest will have gotten the message, no matter what happens to the health care system or wellness policy.
What we will be talking about instead is the Alzheimer's epidemic. How do I know?
- We're getting older. It's not just me. And our expectations for old age are rising every day Ringo Starr can sing (or Keith Richards can breathe).
- Diagnosis is not just getting better, but it's being extended toward people without symptoms. Tests like MRIs and PET scans can detect the disease before people know they have it. New guidelines could be in force this fall.
As I've written here many times, Alzheimer's is a very sad way to go. My grandfather (above) died of it, and I watched my next-door neighbor go through it, too.
Worse, there's really little we can do. A new University of Washington study says early detection of Alzheimer's does not lead to any savings in treatment costs. It's not like diabetes or heart disease -- it's just out there, waiting for us to reach it.
All of which means you can expect a lot more stories like these, each of them offering a modicum of hope to those who are suffering from the disease now, and those of us who might become part of the epidemic later:
- Let's start by including my story from June 30 on monoclonal antibodies. Daniel Chain says he can bind the beta amyloid and prevent the plaques that are the mark of the disease.
- A timed release version of Aricept, the present Alzheimer's market leader, is on the way. Aricept loses patent protection in November, but if the new formula is approved the $3.64 billion/year formulation could have new life, even though it is anything but a cure.
- An inhaled version of insulin may improve memory function in early-state Alzheimer's patients.
As time goes by you can also expect to see more stories like this one, claiming such things as exercise, Vitamin D and tea can help ward off the disease. None are harmful habits. I engage in all three. But they're not going to keep Alzheimer's at bay indefinitely.
Just as with the obesity epidemic, you can expect an Alzheimer's gold rush, as new therapies are passed by the FDA and a fading baby boom generation (that's me, folks) begs for anything claiming to offer relief.
Meanwhile, I'll console myself with the knowledge that Grandpa Fred had 86 good years, and a good friend by his side for 66 of them.
Once that was consolation enough.