• November 20, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    On January 1, the first Baby Boomers will turn 65, and in the process begin the first chapter of an enormous healthcare crisis.
    No, it’s not about Medicare, it’s about Alzheimer’s disease, which is the only one of the top three diseases—cancer and HIV/AIDS being the other two—in which risk is heavily dependant on age. After 65, risk of Alzheimer’s climbs steeply. This disease is costing us $172 billion annually in lost income and treatment expenses. That number is expected to rise to more than $1 trillion by mid-century because the number of those afflicted will nearly triple in that time.
    In addition, the number caregivers involved in the Alzheimer’s healthcare crisis will rise from approximately 11 million today to an estimated 26 million by 2050.
    Sounds awful doesn’t it?
    However, I want you to know there’s cause to be hopeful that the crisis may be assuaged if not outright averted.
    It reminds me of another health crisis that affected us Boomers when we were children—polio. That disease took a terrible toll, but ultimately it was completely halted by the development of vaccines. The hope for Alzheimer’s patients now, and the patients of the future, is that medical science is close to breakthroughs on a couple of fronts.
    Because this is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) hosted a teleconference this week to which I was invited. The purpose was to discuss where American drug researchers and manufacturers are in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
    While the representatives of Eli Lilly & Co., Merck and Pfizer stopped well short of announcing they had found the medication which would halt, cure or reverse Alzheimer’s, they did say that on a couple of different fronts they believe new, important medications would become available to the public in the next two years:
    · Drugs that would inhibit or block the production of the protein that forms the plaque which causes the damage to brain function in Alzheimer’s patients;
    · Use of a lightly irradiated molecule in brain scans to let doctors see far earlier when someone is developing Alzheimer’s. Early diagnosis means earlier treatment and better outcomes in the long-term.
    While the conversation with these physicians and scientists did not include the announcement that Alzheimer’s patients, their caregivers, and the rest of us Boomers are hoping for, I believe it’s a clear indication that there’s genuine light at the end of this long and terribly dark tunnel.
    Hold onto that hope. As Dr. Bernie Seigel says, “In the face of uncertainty, there’s nothing wrong with hope.”
    Blessings, Joanne