The onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can rob many elderly people of joy and comfort in their twilight years.
Experts such as Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, chief medical and scientific officer at Banner Sun Health Research Institute, say medicinal trials and therapies have come a long way in the past several decades. But he acknowledged there have been discouraging setbacks in recent years in determining how the onset of the debilitating disease develops and what treatments are best suited in dealing with it throughout a patient’s lifetime.
Sabbagh and other experts now conclude Alzheimer’s is evolving from a terminal disease to a chronic condition.
While still incurable, the new status allows patients to live their everyday lives in a little more comfort and enjoy a life previously not experienced by others.
“Curing Alzheimer’s disease is many years away,” Sabbagh said. “Dementia is the end of the disease, not the beginning. By the time we become forgetful, changes have been occurring in the brain for 20 to 30 years.”
Sabbagh and other experts spoke Friday morning at the Rio Vista Recreation Center in Peoria during an annual meeting of the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, a statewide collaboration in Alzheimer’s disease research.
Established in 1998, the seven-member institution promotes scientific understanding and early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and searches for effective disease-stopping and prevention therapies.
It also seeks to educate Arizona residents about Alzheimer’s research and the resources needed to help patients, families and professionals manage the disease.
The consortium, which includes Arizona State University, Barrow Neurological Institute, Mayo Clinic Arizona, Banner Sun Health Research Institute, Translational Genomics Research Institute, University of Arizona and Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, is determined to find effective treatments to halt the progression and onset of Alzheimer’s disease in the coming years.
Sabbagh said that includes the constant medicinal trials aimed at finding suitable treatments — even a possible cure — to help patients lead healthy, fulfilling lives.
Nationwide, Sabbagh said there are more than 250 drugs in clinical development and another 75 undergoing clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease.
Doctors and health advocates say the disease takes an intolerable toll on those suffering from a mental, emotional and financial standpoint.
It also impacts caregivers, including family, close friends or professionals, who can also experience extreme fatigue, financial distress and bouts of social isolation, anxiety and depression.
That’s because caregivers, who are often juggling the competing demands of work and care, must begin to navigate health care systems that lack coordination; deal with constant information overload and choices; and manage difficult medication schedules and sophisticated technology in the home.
An estimated 44 million Americans — about 1 in 5 adults — provide unpaid care to another adult, said David W. Coon, an elder care expert and associate dean for scholarship and research collaboration at Arizona State University. In 2009, Coon said nearly 11 million Americans provided 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care to family and friends experiencing Alzheimer’s disease. The value on the pro bono service equated to almost $144 billion.
The American public is no doubt seeing that effect in their pocketbooks, particularly because local government services cannot always shoulder the costs.
Steven Killian, assistant policy adviser for the governor’s office, said Gov. Jan Brewer recognizes the adverse effect Alzheimer’s disease has on patients and their families.
Through a collaboration of many groups, the governor has created an agency that addresses the needs of Arizona’s most vulnerable citizens in a number of areas. Arizona SERVES — an acronym for service, engagement, responsiveness, volunteerism, encouragement and support — helps families and the elderly seeking independence to connect to resources offered through faith-based and nonprofit organizations.
“The steps we take now are vital to fixing this disease and the problems it creates,” Killian said.
Visit www.arizonaserves.gov for more information.
Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.