NACOGDOCHES — The Alzheimer’s population in the United States is expected to triple as the baby boomer population matures over the next quarter century.
Between 4 and 6 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s in the United States, about 10 million worldwide. As the average age increases with maturing baby boomers, the United States can expect to see this number triple in the early part of next century, said Dr. Robert P. Carroll, private practitioner in Nacogdoches for 20 years and president of the Greater East Texas Alzheimer’s Association and board member of the National Alzheimer’s Association.
Carroll was one of a bank of experts who spoke earlier this month at the annual Women’s Health Forum held on the Stephen F.Austin State University campus.
Though progress has been made in researching the cause and effects of Alzheimer’s, there is still no cure.
“We’re getting close, but we need to spend more money. And as time goes by and the population gets older, it’s only going to get worse,” said Dr. Carroll, who was involved with the development of two widely used Alzheimer’s drugs, Cognex and Aricept.
Dr. Carroll noted that a current proposal would increase spending for national AIDS research campaign to $1 1/2 billion annually. In comparison, only $350 million is spent on Alzheimer’s research.
“As far as I am concerned, these numbers need to be reversed. Alzheimer’s affects far more people than AIDS ever will,” Dr. Carroll said.
Two drugs, Cognex and Aricept, have shown promise in slowing the effects of the Alzheimer’s, but neither are cures. Cognex is rarely prescribed today since the FDA approval of Aricept in February. Cognex, though effective, had many adverse side effects and had to be taken three times daily. Aricept is taken only once a day and has few if any of the same side effects as Cognex.
Other therapies may also alleviate the symptoms or delay the progression of the disease. Exercise, according to many studies, may improve memory. Use of an anti-inflammatory, non-prescription drug such as aspirin or ibuprofen also may improve short term memory. And some studies have indicated that diet may also have an effect on Alzheimer’s, particularly a diet that includes anti- oxidants such as vitamins E and C and carotene.
At one time aluminum, primarily its absorption by the body via soft-drink cans, laxatives and anti-perspirants, was thought to be a factor in the disease. More recent research has largely discounted aluminum absorption as a factor, but Carroll, whose father suffered from Alzheimer’s for more than 15 years, says it doesn’t hurt to be careful.
“I don’t allow any aluminum in my house,” he said.
According to conservative estimates, the United States spends from $90 billion to $100 billion a year on the care of Alzheimer’s patients, both in professional care facilities and on at-home care.
“But I would estimate that the cost is much higher than that, perhaps twice that amount,” Carroll said.
From $7 million to $10 million a year are spent on the disease in Nacogdoches County alone, he said.
Presented by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and cosponsored by SFASU, the Nacogdoches Medical Center and Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital, the forum was planned by the Families in Transition Task Force (FIT).
The FIT task force is a non-profit marketing association formed to address critical issues affecting the economic, emotional and physical integrity of East Texas families. Though composed largely of Extension family and consumer science agents in 22 East Texas counties, its membership also includes key civic, county and political leaders.
Those wishing more information about FIT and how they can become involved should contact their local county Extension office.