Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Many Deaths from Alzheimer's?

Our colleague and elder law rock star, Professor Dick Kaplan sent me the link to the article in the Wall Street Journal about the number of deaths attributed to Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's and Its Uncounted Victims, written by George Vradenburg & Stanley Prusiner, ran in the WSJ on March 16, 2014.

The first paragraph opens with a note that President Regan's death certificate lists pneumonia as the cause of death and offers that "[a]ttributing Alzheimer deaths to other diseases is all too common—and highlights the complicated nature of Alzheimer's contribution to deaths in the U.S. each year. It also suggests that Alzheimer's might be a bigger problem than previously thought."  The article cites to statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) that there are approximately 84,000 deaths per year from Alzheimer's.  That may be too low, way too low. 

The authors point to a new study by Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center  published in the March 5, 2014 volume of Neurology (subscription required to access full articles) that determines that deaths from Alzheimer's is 6 times that reported by the CDC, or over a half-million in 2010.  Vradenburg & Prusiner compare Alzheimer's to cancer in terms of the size of the issue, referencing causes of death from Alzheimer's as "a cancer-sized problem." 

Although deaths from cancer are declining,  those from Alzheimer's are increasing. This creates a significant problem, as the authors point out:

the longer we live the higher the risk for developing Alzheimer's, which is now more costly than cancer or heart disease due to the duration of the disease and its impact on other conditions ... There is not a single drug or combination of drugs that halts or even slows the progression of Alzheimer's, and more than a dozen potential drugs have failed to emerge from clinical trials in the last 10 years.

The authors call for more funding for research and more collaboration.  Consider this: Congress annually allocates about $550 million to Alzheimer's research while $5.7 BILLION is allocated to cancer research. The authors conclude that because it

is a cancer-size problem, it needs a cancer-size response. The federal government must take the lead by dramatically increasing research funds and mobilizing collaboration between academic research and the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. Until that happens, we'll continue to watch in horror as this disease claims an increasing number of friends, family and loved ones, including presidents and prime ministers.

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