Alzheimer's advances in stages, progressing from mild forgetfulness and impairment to widespread loss of mental abilities. The time course of the disease varies by individual, ranging from five to 20 years. The most common cause of death is infection. Scientists have made significant progress in understanding the possible causes of Alzheimer's disease, but there are still many questions to be answered.
Today, it is estimated that about 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and about 360,000 people are newly-diagnosed every year. Alzheimer's affects about 10 percent of people ages 65 and up, and the prevalence doubles roughly every 10 years after age 65. The financial cost of caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease is estimated to be about $50,000 per year in direct medical expenses.
TREATMENT: Alzheimer's has no cure. There are a number of medicines available that may help improve the mental function of people with Alzheimer's disease. If these drugs are given early enough in the course of the disease, they may enable people to carry out their daily activities and independent living for a longer period of time and may prolong the time that patients can be managed at home.
NEW CLINICAL TRIAL: The Georgetown Memory Disorders Program has recently conducted a study testing an immunotherapy called immune globulin (IGIV) for Alzheimer's.
The therapy is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and has been used for more than 20 years to treat a variety of autoimmune and immunodeficiency diseases. However, it has not been approved to treat Alzheimer's.
Two previous studies showed statistical improvement in cognition among patients. They also showed that the therapy reduced amyloid plaque levels in the brain, which are thought to contribute to Alzheimer's development.
The treatment may be effective in destroying and removing plaques from the brain, according to Brigid Reynolds, NP, clinical coordinator at Georgetown University's Memory Disorders Program. One interesting aspect of the study is that patients receive the intravenous treatments from home.
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