World Alzheimer’s Day: Making Strides in Treatments and Diagnostics, But Facing Caregiving Challenges

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and tomorrow, September 21, 2013, is World Alzheimer’s Day. It’s a special day dedicated worldwide to raising awareness about the challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease — as well as a day to celebrate the strides that have been made in research and diagnostics.

Drug therapies disappoint in late-stage trials

While there have been some accomplishments in the diagnostics area in recent years, including more advanced tests capable of detecting the disease before the patient ever experiences symptoms, there’s been some doubt cast in the direction of existing treatments designed to stop progression of the disease. In May, for instance, a promising drug created by Baxter failed in a stage IV clinical trial — meaning it won’t ever make it to pharmacy shelves. It also sends researchers back to the drawing board to identify shortcomings and, hopefully, make adjustments that will improve the effectiveness of the drug while reducing side effects. The slow progression of Alzheimer's disease

Diagnostics continue to improve

While the treatment pipeline may look disappointing for the moment, diagnostics are shedding some light on the subject. New research suggests that brain imaging via PET scans are valuable for both diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and for tracking progression. The hope is that earlier detection will pave the way for better treatments that successfully slow, or even stop, the progression of this debilitating disease.

Caregivers face an uphill battle

What’s most disturbing about Alzheimer’s disease is that it’s expected to triple by the year 2050 — while the number of able caregivers can’t possibly keep pace. Already, Alzheimer’s caregivers struggle to balance their daily lives, work demands, and the increasing demands of caregiving. Many are forced to give up their jobs, adding financial trouble to an already overwhelming and stressful situation. The financial costs of Alzheimer’s disease alone are also expected to triple to about $1.2 trillion — and that’s just in the U.S.

Caregivers are often family members who are suddenly thrown into the demanding role with little to no preparation or training. Alzheimer’s disease is typically a slow, tortuous decline that’s as difficult for family members to cope with as it is for the individual who struggles with their self-identity while dealing with the frustrations of a declining memory. Children and grandchildren face emotional distress when a loved one can no longer recall their names or even cherished memories. Caregivers, often adult children or spouses, struggle with daily guilt about whether they’re adequately meeting their loved ones’ needs, while coping internally with their own anger and frustrations.

Glimmers of hope for the future

The good news is the U.S. is committed to continued research and finding viable treatments to stop the disease in its tracks. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. While we’re probably years away from a cure, promising treatments are coming along more frequently — in fact, there are a few pharmaceuticals on the market that are approved to slow the progression of memory decline and other symptoms.

Scientists also don’t know exactly what causes the disease, but have identified a few lifestyle factors that are associated with increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. While there’s no real way to “prevent” Alzheimer’s disease, it certainly doesn’t hurt to avoid the lifestyle factors that could be contributing to your risk of developing the disease. In the meantime, caregivers turn to family, friends and both community and online support groups for advice and a shoulder to lean on as they navigate the challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

Image via Efron on Stock.xchng

Post by Angela Stringfellow

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