That's how often someone in America develops Alzheimer's disease. By mid-century, it's expected the rate will accelerate to once each 33 seconds. Consider some additional figures reported by the Alzheimer's Association in their recent report, the 2007 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures:
-Over 5 million people in the United States currently suffer from Alzheimer's
-Without significant advances, this figure is expected to reach 7.7 million by 2030
-By mid-century, the figure could exceed 16 million
-The cost of Alzheimer's and other dementias is estimated to be $148 billion annually
As these figures reflect, the challenge is significant.
Family members struggle to make sense of a life careening wildly out of control. The mom - dad, husband, wife - whom you've loved begins to somehow drift away. The little nuances that once served as the language of special connection disappear. The loving gaze devolves into the look of uncertainty and, both excruciatingly slowly and vengefully fast, you step over the line and assume the most challenging role of your life - you become a caregiver.
Clinical complications, though less personal, are no less complicated. Having few concrete tools to thwart Alzheimer's progress, clinicians are often relegated to the role of caretaker, comforter and companion. Assisted living facilities and nursing homes train staff to deal with Alzheimer's patient's special needs. As the disease progresses, the choices become more difficult, the settings more secure, the treatment options less meaningful.
A recent report from Britain indicates that neuroleptic medications, originally developed to treat schizophrenia, have an adverse effect on Alzheimer's patients. The medications are often used to sedate Alzheimer's patients who exhibit behavioral problems. The study finds that patients treated with neuroleptic medications die an average of 6 months sooner than those not receiving the medications. In addition, the medications cause a significant decline in verbal and cognitive functioning.
The researchers recommend against the use of neuroleptics for people with mild forms of Alzheimer's. For more advanced cases, they say the benefits must be weighed against the known adverse effects.
The choices, personally and clinically, are most difficult. May you find you have nimble feet, and God's grace, as you struggle with this perilous balancing act...To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about Alzheimer's, including treatment options, see this from the Alzheimer's Association, or this from Mayo Clinic.