According to a study conducted by researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, around 15 million Americans will suffer from some form of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or mild cognitive impairment by the year 2060. Alzheimer’s disease currently affects about 6 million Americans, however 47 million people in the US have been identified as at risk of cognitive decline.
These figures are a stark reminder that while there are a few treatments approved to help manage the symptoms of dementia, a therapy which truly stops the disease from progressing, or even reverses some of the damage, has yet to be developed. As more individuals are being found to carry biomarkers of preclinical forms of dementia, the focus needs to be on therapies that can prevent cognitive decline in presymptomatic disease.
“There are about 47 million people in the US today who have some evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s, which means they have either a build-up of protein fragments called beta-amyloid or neurodegeneration of the brain but don’t yet have symptoms,” said Ron Brookmeyer, professor of biostatistics at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “Many of them will not progress to Alzheimer’s dementia in their lifetimes. We need to have improved methods to identify which persons will progress to clinical symptoms, and develop interventions for them that could slow the progression of the disease, if not stop it all together.”
The study is the first to estimate the number of Americans who are currently at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Brookmeyer and his colleagues published their findings in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Using a computer model designed to study the aging of the US population, the researchers analyzed data from large studies on the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The model estimated that 5.7 million Americans will have mild cognitive impairment and 9.3 million will have Alzheimer’s dementia by the year 2060.
“Estimates by disease state and severity are important because the resources needed to care for patients vary so much over the course of the illness,” said Brookmeyer.
Of course, the estimates are limited by the demographics of the participants who took part in the studies used for this research. As some groups are more susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease, this could be an important consideration when it comes to preparing to care for these individuals in the future.