Can you imagine waking up and not remembering your own son or daughter? Well, that was the case with both of my grandmothers. They had Alzheimer's, a neurological disease that affects the brain and causes those afflicted with it to slowly and increasingly forget.
Alzheimer's is a progressive memory disease, so it gets worse with time. One of the saddest aspects is a person with Alzheimer's disease can have a healthy body, but the brain deteriorates. The majority of the people with this disease are older, and there is no cure.
According to the statistics, the number of people diagnosed with the disease will increase drastically because of the baby boom generation. Currently, there are around 5 million people with Alzheimer's but future estimates are around 11 million to 16 million. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and one out of three seniors dies from Alzheimer's or a form of dementia.
In addition, in 2013, Alzheimer's will cost the United States $203 billion. By 2050, this is expected to be $1.2 trillion. The disease is also genetic.
According to Dr. M. Marsel Mesulam, a professor and leading researcher at Northwestern University, 50 percent of family members who had parents or grandparents with the disease also get Alzheimer's. There is still so much unknown about Alzheimer's and few drugs to fight it.
I spoke with Mesulam, who explained it takes 10 to 15 years for a new drug to be made, so time should not be wasted. The average age people are diagnosed with the disease is around 70, but by the time they go to the doctor with the symptoms the current drugs available do little to combat it.
Unfortunately, it is hard to recognize the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The symptoms typically are memory loss, trouble with words and overthinking, which many mistake as simply old age. It is important that people go for regular checkups with their doctor and at 60 have a brain scan.
Some research has shown that keeping the brain active, exercising regularly and watching your weight lowers the chances of getting the disease. However, more research needs to be done.
People need to be more informed about the disease because very soon it could be their grandparents and parents with the diagnosis. It is horrible to watch the slow decline in a loved one, knowing there is little you can do.
“There is real progress in the lab in understanding the disease, but it doesn't mean you can stop the process of it occurring,” Mesulam said .
Hopefully, one day in the near future, a cure will be found.