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AARP investing $60 million to fund research and treatment for Kentuckians suffering from Alzheimer’s

Mary Kuhlman
Public News Service

An estimated 71,000 people in Kentucky are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and efforts to better treat and potentially cure the brain disease are getting a major boost from AARP, which is investing $60 million in the Disrupt Dementia Discovery Fund for dementia and Alzheimer’s research.

Dementia silently destroys the brain for nearly 15 years before there is a hint that a person is affected, said Dr. Gregory Jicha, a professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. He said this investment will help address the issue of early diagnosis.

A new dementia research effort hopes to apply insights from other areas of medicine, such as oncology and immunology. (Photo from PNS via Pixabay)

“What can we do to get people into the clinicians to recognize that this is a problem early on? That has been the major issue for the field is that we have not been working on folks at an early enough stage of disease,” he said.

The most recent Alzheimer’s drug was approved more than a decade ago, and since then more than 400 clinical trials have failed. The Dementia Discovery Fund supports new drug projects, encourages new treatment techniques and applies insights from other areas of medicine, such as oncology and immunology.

Dr. Merrylyn Moran Smith, a volunteer member with the AARP Kentucky Executive Council, said that not only is dementia a tremendous burden on the patient and their loved ones, it’s also a major driver of health-care costs.

“Medicare spending for people 65-plus with dementia is up to five times higher than those without dementia,” she said. “By 2040, the cost of caring for people with dementia is expected to be about 25 percent of Medicare spending.”

With the number of Americans with dementia expected to reach 14 million by 2050, Jicha said, there’s no time to waste.

“We need every penny we can get, we need every volunteer in the community that we can get, and we need every researcher across the nation turning its eyes towards this problem,” he said.

An AARP survey of U.S. physicians found just 10 percent are extremely or very optimistic that effective dementia treatment protocols will emerge in the next five years.

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