Dementia is a uniquely terrifying prospect for most of us, more frightening even than the dreaded C word. Cancer is an enemy to be battled, but Alzheimer’s disease is a slow, creeping tide – there is no battle to be fought, and there are no survivors. It strikes at the heart of who and what we are – erasing our memories and stealing our very identity. As a society, fear (and even a little superstition) means that we often shy away from discussion of Alzheimer’s disease, instead joking (nervously) about “senior moments.” The reality is one we’d rather not dwell on.
As the population ages, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. Already, Alzheimer’s is the sixth largest killer in America, and estimates from the Alzheimer’s Association put the number of Americans living with the disease at 5.3 million. Without a medical breakthrough to help prevent or slow the progression of the disease, this number will rise to 13.8 million by 2050 – with similar trends predicted across the Western world. That’s not just bad news for the millions of people affected directly or indirectly – it’s a huge challenge for already overstretched healthcare budgets, as shown in “Counting the Costs” below.
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