More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease in 2016, and someone in the U.S. develops the disease every 66 seconds, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Not only is it the country's sixth leading cause of death, but a full third of all seniors die of Alzheimer's disease or an alternate form of dementia.
There is light amidst the darkness, however. While Alzheimer's remains a very real and frightening reality, scientists are advancing the boundaries of knowledge every day. Let's take a closer look at some recent findings, along with highlighting a few innovative products aimed at improving the lives of people with Alzheimer's disease.
What is the Latest in Alzheimer's Disease Research?
Over the past year alone, scientists have made tremendous progress in terms of diagnosing the disease a full decade before symptoms manifest. Perhaps the most noteworthy? Research underway at the National Institute on Aging which suggests that honing in on one protein in the brain, IRS-1, may reveal a common defect found in people with Alzheimer's disease.
Early findings suggest that study participants with Alzheimer's have lower amounts of the active form of IRS-1 and higher amounts of its inactive forms than their healthier counterparts. Results to date are so conclusive that “researchers were able to look at results and predict with 100 percent accuracy if the person was healthy or had Alzheimer's.”
A second study from the University of Otago, meanwhile, uses a simple blood test to detect the early onset of Alzheimer's with 86 percent accuracy. The researchers' ultimate hope? That these findings will lead to potential new treatment methods. Says senior study author Dr. Ed Goetzl, “My vision of the future is you have your breakfast cereal, and on one side you have a statin for cardiovascular disease, and on the other side you have three pills to prevent dementia.”
Beyond the Blood Test
Saliva, too, offers potential insights into Alzheimer's diagnosis, according to research from the University of Alberta in Canada. While still in its infancy, the research — announced at 2015's Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington — reveals that scientists may one day be able to detect the disease simply by examining changes in saliva.
According to Heather Snyder, Director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer's Association, “As the field has continued to mature over the last decade or so, we now have research and evidence that suggests that the underlying biology of Alzheimer's disease is changing a decade or more before someone experiences the memory or function changes associated with Alzheimer's.”
Innovation Improves Lives
While the tests mentioned above may still be years into the future, Alzheimer's patients currently have access to a number of new products designed to help them live better in the meantime.
Consider Eatwell. This assistive tableware is the brainchild of Sha Yao, who watched her grandmother struggle to eat while battling Alzheimer's. Her design incorporates bright colors — known to increase food and drink consumption among people with the disease — as well as ergonomic elements which support Alzheimer's related cognitive impairments.
Another product of simple yet significant value to Alzheimer's patients and their families is Minestamp. This customizable clothing labeler featuring wash-proof ink that makes it easier than ever to keep track of clothing for dementia patients living in senior housing communities.
The overall takeaway for people with Alzheimer's disease and the people who love them? In addition to hope for a cure, numerous products are already available aimed at improving quality of life in the here and now.
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