By the time you receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease for your loved one, you’ve likely watched the symptoms of this most common type of dementia unfold for months or years. They forget things such as the name of a longtime friend or how to use a simple household appliance. They struggle with the concept of time, confusing decades-old events with very recent ones. Their mood changes and they show a decrease in good judgment.
Alzheimer’s disease affects one in nine people over the age of 65, and 81 percent of those over 75. Your chances of developing the disease increase five-fold every five years after you turn 65, and as our population ages, experts anticipate the number of new cases to double by 2050.
Despite their best efforts over the past few decades, researchers have been unable to find meaningful treatment for this devastating disease that destroys brain cells’ ability to function, causing memory loss and significant decreases in cognitive abilities.
Identifying treatment is now a major focus of research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies, including research happening right here in San Diego at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.
“We are focused on early disease now,” says Dr. Michael Plopper, medical director of clinical trials at Sharp Mesa Vista.
“It’s important to get to people with Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment very early on in the course of the disease process and focus on early intervention,” he says. “Previously our focus was on people with advanced disease, but there was simply too much brain damage to be able to effect a lot of change.”
One of the clinical trials includes a new drug therapy that targets amyloid protein, which in Alzheimer’s patients develops in clumps between neurons of the brain and can interfere with neuron function.
“We hope to learn more about the early development of amyloid rather than waiting until it’s done its damage,” says Dr. Plopper, referring to the study involving patients with mild to moderate cognitive impairment. “We hope to intervene earlier and slow down the over-development of this protein.”
Plopper says recent developments focusing on earlier stages in the disease process and new mechanisms of action are cause for optimism.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to address the underlying cause. I truly believe that within the next decade, we’ll have a meaningful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease,” he says.