Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Pinning Mental Health Hopes on Research

"This problem is not going to go away. It's perhaps one of the leading issues on the health care dockets of virtually all countries."
"[In the United States] we spend about $238-billion a year caring fore people with Alzheimer's disease."
"If we don't make inroads into this disease, it's going to bankrupt the health care system. Those kinds of dramatic statements are being made, but I think there's an element of truth to it."
"The unanimous opinion [of 94 nations at the WHO Alzheimer's conference] was that this was a big deal everywhere. They're talking about the rate of dementia doubling in Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada, tripling in Africa and quadrupling in Asia."
"The fact that we can design these therapies [through research efforts] now to get at the targets that are causing the disease is a huge advance for us. [Within the coming years] we're going to get one or more therapies out there that really are effective."
Dr. Ronald Petersen, neurologist, Mayo Clinic

Dr. Peterson, an American expert in dementia who is chair of an advisory committee assisting the American government on the issue of how best to cope nationally with the dilemma of growing numbers of elderly citizens struck by Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia, responded to an invitation to address a Senate committee of the Government of Canada. He was speaking aspirationally, toward the potential of scientists making a breakthrough in discovery of therapies for people living with Alzheimer's.

There is no cure for this debilitating disease whose trajectory is so pitiless, robbing people of their mental faculties, their memories, their capacity to interact with others, and gradually destroying their bodies until it finally takes the only thing they have left; their lives. In Canada, an estimated 747,000 Canadians are living with the diagnosis of Alzheimer's at the various stages of its presence, from initial onset to final destruction. Women appear to be more prone to Alzheimer's than men; 72 percent of those afflicted in Canada are women.

The world's population is growing older. Medical science has gifted us with longer lives through the advent of treatments for illnesses and chronic diseases that prolong life, enabling people to live productively for far longer than historically. In technologically and economically advanced countries of the world life expectancy has grown. And the natural consequence of growing older is a breakdown of bodily systems with the onset of age-related conditions, among them dementia.

In the United States the number of people living with Alzheimer's is 5.3 million. The actual number of the affected is likely higher, given the fact that many people have not yet been diagnosed yet are in the stages of early onset. The staggering number of people afflicted with Alzheimer's comes up hard against the reality that there is at present no effective treatment for it. It is also the most costly of diseases to deal with. Dementia's price tag in Canada leans heavily on the economy.

According to the Alzheimer's Society of Canada, the cost of dealing with dementia comes to around $33-billion a year. This number will not be stagnant; its burden on the Canadian economy is set to grow exponentially, to come up to $293-billion by the year 2040. Whereas Canada has not yet enacted a national strategy to deal with this very real social/medical problem afflicting its population and its economy, the United States has done so.

Canada is one of two G7 nations with no strategy to deal with this national emergency in place, but in 2011 President Barack Obama signed the National Alzheimer's Project Act into law. Its goal is aimed at preventing the disease, or at the very least discovering an effective treatment for this dread malady by 2025. The development of a national plan focuses attention and awareness on the disease and related dementias.

As a result of greater public awareness and recognition of the need to be as proactive as possible, federal funding in the United States toward research has doubled from around $450-million in 2011 to the current $991-million. In contrast, annual federal funding for research into dementia in Canada comes to around $41-million, a pale comparison to the $150-million allocated on cancer research or the $96-million spent on heart and stroke research.

Alzheimer's disease is found to be the third-leading cause of death in Canada, trailing heart disease and lung cancer. The international community has recognized the need to focus on Alzheimer's and various other forms of dementia striking their populations in their elder years. The World Health Organization held its first global dementia conference in Geneva, in March of 2015.

Despite the attention, despite the funding of research there have as yet been no breakthrough discoveries. On the other hand, scientists have learned some important things about the disease and its biological structures. PET scans identify proteins that the plaques consist of associated with Alzheimer's. That initial knowledge base is useful in helping researchers design drugs, antibodies and vaccines to target those destructive proteins. The hope is that more, much more is soon to come.

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