Medical experts are meeting with Health and Human Services officials in Washington to talk about the National Alzheimer’s Project Act or “NAPA”. President Obama signed NAPA into law last year, but officials have spent a year working on the framework. The final draft is due in early February. The group’s goal is to effectively prevent and treat Alzheimer’s by 2025.
Alzheimer’s disease is a big problem and it is only getting bigger. Right now, about five million Americans are affected, and about half of people over 85 have it. As the Baby Boomers continue to age, the total number of Americans affected is expected to triple by the year 2050.
The biggest obstacle to meeting the 2025 deadline is money. The draft doesn’t provide details on how to fund the necessary research to meet the target date.
Last year, the government spent about $500 million on research on Alzheimer’s and related dementias. By comparison, $6 billion was spent on cancer research and $823 million on obesity. Alzheimer’s experts believe the NAPA plan will cost $2 billion a year.
Today’s drugs, like Aricpet and Namenda, only temporarily ease some dementia symptoms and unfortunately, do not slow the progression of the disease. Once symptoms appear, it’s too late to stop the disease from progressing. Experts have said that the work to find better treatments has been slow and time consuming.
Very recently, there has been disappointing news about a possible Alzheimer’s drug, called Dimebon. After a phase three trial failed to demonstrate significant benefit in patients with mild to moderate forms of the disease, the companies have announced they are stopping their efforts.
Unfortunately, there are other issues standing in the way of treatment and research. A recent report found that as many as half of today’s Alzheimer’s sufferers have not been formally diagnosed, in part because of stigma and the belief that nothing can be done. If we are able to diagnose more people at an early stage, we will have a better chance of finding treatments that will slow the progression.
How important is early diagnosis? Scientists now know that Alzheimer’s is brewing for years before symptoms may appear. A diagnosis gives families a chance to plan appropriately and allow patients to benefit from some of the treatments that can reduce symptoms. In addition, an early diagnosis gives scientists more time to study the disease and to find effective ways to treat and prevent it.
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