The Cure is Not My Top Priority
This post originally ran on Changingaging.org on June 3, 2015.
While attending Alzheimer’s Disease International in Perth, Australia last April, I was invited by Executive Director Marc Wortmann to attend a meeting to share opinions about what our top priorities should be regarding Alzheimer’s. Although my conference schedule did not allow me to attend in person, I passed my comments on to Marc, because I feel very strongly about this, and I knew that my thoughts would likely fall outside the majority opinion.
I think it’s fair to say that most of the people at the meeting—and many others around the world—would list research into new medications as the top priority for Alzheimer’s. Many are pushing for a cure, and I imagine that even most of those who realize how daunting a prospect “cure” truly is would still argue that developing new treatments to slow onset and progression would take the top slot.
I beg to differ and will probably ruffle a few feathers in doing so. But keep in mind that in spite of my holistic approach and rejection of many narrow biomedical precepts, I am viewing this as a physician and scientist (and a bit of a mathematician as well).
I told Marc that I believe our top priority is to build capacity and capability in our communities, both for our aging population in general, as well as those living with changing cognitive abilities of all kinds. Here’s why:
The rapidly expanding demographics regarding Alzheimer’s prevalence are a microcosm of our global aging boom, because Alzheimer’s (along with most other forms of dementia) is, first and foremost, an age-related condition. The rapidly rising number of people living with the diagnosis is not due to our risk increasing—in fact recent studies show that the lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s is decreasing with each generation, mainly due to better preventive and cardiovascular health. In other words, your lifetime risk of getting Alzheimer’s will be less than that of people born in the decades before you.