Research Aims for New Approaches to Growing Alzheimer's Epidemic
> 6/11/2007 1:28:55 PM

Professionals in the mental health field are currently at work in labratories across the world, developing predictive treatments and new entries in the heavily competitive Alzheimer's medication market. These potential breakthroughs come amid ominous reports estimating that the number of patients worldwide who suffer from the disease will quadruple by 2050 if common diagnosis continues to expand at its current rate.

Researchers in Norway recently isolated a set of 96 individual genes which, when observed in the blood of Alzheimer's patients, bear markedly visible distinctions from those in adults who have not developed the disease. In preliminary testing, the method's rate of success in detecting Alzheimer's was an impressive 85 percent. In a separate development, clinicians at the University of Pennsylvania have begun to scan for Alzheimer's using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) techniques; the approaches proved very successful in limited trials. The most encouraging aspect of these experiments is that they were able to predict the presence of Alzheimer's and approaching dementia when the patients themselves had yet to notice any related symptoms. A research team in San Francisco has also begun developing a more informal series of "bedside" observational tools to better determine whether an individual is at risk of developing the disease. This guide includes everyday factors such as advanced age as it relates to measurably declining cognitive functions, speed in completing physical tasks, abundance of "white matter" on the brain, and reduced body mass (unexplained weight loss in seniors has been cited as evidence of developing Alzheimer's).

Existing medications may stave off the steep cognitive declines that characterize Alzheimer's, but no effective cure yet exists. Early detection is key to the successful treatment as the disease can be far more easily mitigated in its milder initial stages. Unfortunately, first symptoms are all too easy to brush off as insignificant signs of the memory loss that so often accompanies the aging process, especially for those hesitant to seek treatment. These new methods of observation and quantification will, hopefully, allow for more patients to be diagnosed before the condition becomes unmanageable. Those in the field of medical study clearly appreciate the pressing need to address this epidemic, recommending that researchers make house visits in order to encourage more caregivers to allow seniors to participate in important new prescription trials. The more emphasis the industry can place on cooperative experimentation, the more likely it is to develop innovative treatment tools, be they medicinal or procedural, in the near future.

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