Alzheimer`s treatment should be major focus of research

Canada's population is aging. This is not news, but seems to be a fact our politicians overlook in setting long term policy and priorities for our country.

An area where we need to be particularly proactive is in healthcare. I have written at various times about the looming healthcare crisis getting even worse over the next couple of decades when baby boomers will enter old age.

Alzheimer's disease is one example of a healthcare issue that will soon become critical if we don't place a higher priority on finding a treatment that can offer some modification to the course of the illness by delaying its onset or slowing its progression significantly.

A recent European study announced the global cost of dementia may exceed $604 billion this year with that figure doubling every 20 years. Seventy percent of that cost is being spent in North America and Western Europe.

Clearly, we need a strategy for dealing with what is coming.

A report put out by the American Alzheimer's Association earlier this year referred to Alzheimer's disease as an unfolding natural disaster to which their federal government has sent a token response and for which there is no real plan. I believe the situation is no different here in Canada.

In their study, the Alzheimer's Association did an economic analysis based on projections of the number of Americans expected to get Alzheimer's over the next 4 decades and what it will cost to treat them.

With numbers of patients rising as the population ages and the life expectancy continuing to climb, there will be more people living with Alzheimer's disease and also living longer with it. Obviously, costs to society in terms of personal and family suffering as well as financial strain will climb dramatically too.

The report made hypothetical projections for what may happen if we were to have a breakthrough in treatment research over the next five years and found if a treatment were discovered that could delay the onset of the disease for five years, it could reduce the number of patients and overall expense by roughly 40 percent.

Another projection was done for a hypothetical treatment that would truly slow disease progression and this also showed a potential 20 percent reduction in cost as well as a large reduction in the number of patients dealing with severe symptoms.

Of course, these were simply hypothetical scenarios and we don't know if either is possible, but what is certain is that more research into novel treatment approaches is needed. I wrote earlier this year about a grim study showing the inadequate nature of all the current treatments for Alzheimer's disease.

Our governments need to step up their support of ongoing research in this field or we will all pay a very high price in the coming years.


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