Is There a Cure for Alzheimer’s?

July 1, 2013

Senior womanMany of our home care clients have dementia and, of these, a number have Alzheimer’s disease.  Alzheimer’s is currently incurable, and the costs of providing care are large and growing.  An interesting article in the June 24, 2013 edition of the New Yorker provides insight.

Alzheimer’s was first identified by a German researcher, Alois Alzheimer.  He performed an autopsy on a woman he had observed for years who had suffered cognitive decline.   When examining her brain under a microscope, he observed two phenomena.  One was the deposit of beta-amyloid plaques.  The second was the disruption of the inner structure of certain brain cells, forming tangles; these tangles are made up of a protein called tau.

Researchers are in disagreement over which of these two protein structures cause Alzheimer’s.  The large majority believes that beta-amyloid plaques hamper the transfer of electrical signals between cells at the synapses.  A minority suspects that the tau tangles interfere with cells’ inner workings.

Getting this right is critical.  Research funding for Alzheimer’s disease is  small relative to the enormous costs of care.  In our market area of Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina, the cost of “memory care” at an assisted living facility is in the range of $4,000 to $5,000 per month.  By  2050, it is estimated that the cost of care for Alzheimer’s in the United States will approach one trillion dollars.


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