DURHAM, N.C. — One in three families copes with a family member who has Alzheimer's disease. In the last 10 years, Medicare claims for Alzheimer's disease have skyrocketed 250 percent.
Advances in treating the brain disorder may be just around the corner.
Donna Wilson visits the Heritage Independent Living Center to visit her mother, Elsie, and to learn more about the disease that is robbing Elsie of her mind.
"She's been here almost two years, and I noticed some changes in her behavior," Wilson said.
Duke psychiatrist Dr. Murali Doraiswamy has encouraging news for residents of the Heritage and those who care for family members with Alzheimer's.
"There's a sense that we are far closer to developing treatments that might be able to halt or cure the disease than we've ever been at any time in the history of research in this field," Doraiswamy said.
Doraiswamy says new studies and new clinical trials are providing new knowledge about the early signs of Alzheimer's disease.
Some people are born with a gene that puts them at high risk of Alzheimer's disease. Nerve cell dysfunction can show up in people as young as in their 20s. Most are not aware of the problem until serious signs of the disease show up later in life.
"So what that's suggesting to us is that we need a life-long program of brain fitness," Doraiswamy said.
Brain fitness is the same as heart fitness. That means regular exercise, watching blood pressure and keeping cholesterol levels under 200.
Duke is participating in national clinical trials to see if cholesterol-fighting drugs called statins may actually help the brain.
"That statins might be neuroprotective and might lower the risk for dementia," Doraiswamy said.
That is promising news for Wilson.
"I want to learn that as well, because I'm right behind her. And I might be in the same position she is and I'd like to know how to avoid it for myself," she said.
Duke Medical Center is enrolling volunteers for clinical trials to see if cholesterol drugs can slow Alzheimer's disease. Call (919) 681-6605 for information.