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A fast-growing tangle of Beta-amyloid plaques

Posted Oct 13 2009 10:05pm

More than 35 million people around the world live with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, according to last week' s report by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, the most in-depth assessment of this brain-destroying illness and an ominous forecast for our ageing population.

The new count is about 10% higher than recent predictions, because earlier research underestimated the growing impact of Alzheimer’s in developing countries.

Barring a medical breakthrough, the World Alzheimer Report projects dementia will nearly double every 20 years. By 2050, it will affect a staggering 115.4 million people.

As many health experts would agree, this is an emergency. Along with North America, the UK and other developed countries have long been bracing themselves for this news. But the report also aims to raise awareness of the threat in poorer countries, where finally, people are living long enough to face what is mostly a disease of the 65-and-older population.

In poorer countries, dementia is a hidden issue and misunderstood. For example, in India, it is widely believed that dementia is a normal part of aging – when it’s not. The mistake isn’t confined to the developing world either. Even in Britain, researchers found, just over half of the families caring for someone with dementia believed the same thing.

 The 35.6 million cases of dementia worldwide by 2010 includes nearly 7 million people in Western Europe and South and Southeast Asia, about 5.5 million in China and East Asia and about 3 million in Latin America. The total for   North America is 4.4 million. The disease afflicts one in eight people 65 and older, and nearly one in two people over 85.

The report urges the World Health Organization to declare dementia a health priority and for national governments to follow suit. Recommendations include major new investment in research to uncover the cause of dementia and how to slow, if not stop, the creeping brain disease that gradually robs sufferers of their memories, abilities and identities, eventually killing them. 

There is no known cure – today’s drugs can only alleviate symptoms, and temporarily at that. Scientists aren’t even sure what causes Alzheimer’s. The best that they can offer is drugs that slow its progression by targeting beta-amyloid, the gunky substance that builds up in patients’ brains. We must just hope that the drug companies aren' t in such a tangle with their research.


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