By anyone’s definition, we must now consider Alzheimer’s disease to be an epidemic. Alzheimer’s is a progressive degenerative neurological condition that actually has its origins decades before the initial symptoms of cognitive decline begin to appear. Unfortunately, by the time these symptoms of the disease emerge—memory loss, cognitive decline, and behavioral shifts—there is very little that can be done as, according to our most well-respected medical journals, there is currently no meaningful pharmaceutical treatment for this condition. Despite this reality, pharmaceutical companies continue to market “Alzheimer’s drugs” to the tune of some $3-4 billion annually. Continue reading
Recently, The New York Times announced the creation of a partnership between the National Institutes of Health, 10 pharmaceutical companies and seven nonprofit organizations dedicated to the development of drugs to treat, among other things, Alzheimer’s disease. While at first blush, this five-year, $230 million effort may seem noble, the ultimate motivation for this seemingly ecumenical event is suspect.
Alzheimer’s disease affects some 5.4 million Americans, and according to a recent report from the RAND Corporation, costs Americans in the neighborhood of $200 billion each year to care for those afflicted. To contextualize this figure, it represents about twice what is spent on caring for heart disease patients. But it doesn’t factor in the emotional expense borne by the family members of Alzheimer’s patients whose lives are irreparably compromised by this disease.
Drug companies, as the Times article reported, “… have invested staggering amounts of money in developing drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, for example, but again and again the medications have failed in testing.” Just last month the New England Journal of Medicine reported that two of the latest candidates for treating Alzheimer’s disease had failed, miserably, to provide any meaningful benefit.
Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5.4 million Americans. But the number of individuals whose lives are forever changed by the emotional impact of experiencing the mental decline of a cherished loved one far exceeds the number of those carrying the actual diagnosis.
And so it is that medical research has labored aggressively to develop a treatment for this condition. As yet, the efforts have failed – miserably. No pharmaceutical intervention has demonstrated any meaningful effectiveness to treat or even slow the mental decline of Alzheimer’s disease.
Recently, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association published what I hope will become a landmark study. Researchers announced the results of a clinical trial of vitamin E in people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and their findings could revolutionize our approach to the treatment of this disease, the most common cause of dementia in America.