Alzheimer's disease, one of the most devastating and feared disorders attacking older adults in our time, takes an immense social and economic toll.
Precise numbers simply aren't available, but experts who work in the field estimate that perhaps as many as 3 million people now suffer from Alzheimer's, and the health care bill adds up to something like $90 billion a year.
It was once thought that Alzheimer's disease was a natural consequence of aging. Science knows better now. It's clearly a disease state, attacking the neurological system and causing physical, psychological and emotional changes. Complete loss of memory is common when the disease reaches its final stages.
Despite all that's known today, scientists tell us, a fully accurate diagnosis is impossible until brain tissue can be examined at autopsy.
Experts sketch a gloomy canvas of what lies ahead. For example, more than one-half of all who have reached the age of 65 are alive today; many will live to be 85 when as many as one in three will be vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease; finally, the number with the disease is expected to quadruple by the middle of the 21st century.
This is not to discount the encouraging work going on in laboratories and clinical research centers. There have been no especially dramatic breakthroughs, but important findings are being reported with some regularity.
In one center, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, Dr. Peter Davies has discovered an abnormal protein (A-68) in the brains of Alzheimer victims. It was found, moreover, in the areas most severely affected by the disease.
Large amounts of the protein were found in the brains of the more than two dozen patients whose organs were tested. …