There are already test results filtering from the study in the US of the extensive Colombian family who have the Alzheimer's gene. The most recent study indicates the teams are finding Alzheimer's in people in their 20's, who have normal cognitive skills and no idea they are ill. Their brains show less grey matter than others' and their spinal fluid contains more beta amyloid plaques.
What does this mean? First, medications which prevent the increased production of beta amyloid plaques need to be found and second, these potential medications need to be administered before the brain damage takes place.
The telephone message when I phoned the Alzheimer Institute this week says thay they are looking to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease "without losing a generation." Ouch, that generation includes me and my children.
When we are diagnosed today, we have already lost 20% of our brain function. The medications now available delay the symptoms; the new medications being tested only work on very early diagnosed patients and still only delay the progress of the disease. There is nothing yet to halt the disease or to prevent it.
So what do all adults need to do? Plan financially for the future, plan legally for the future. It will not be sufficient to protect our families from Type A personality heart attack early death (although this advice could hasten that outcome!) Pay attention to your savings and to your investments making decisions that include the possibility of diminished cognitive skill in the future. I know of several families who are in dire financial straits because one member of the family made disastrous investment choices when his decision-making skills and judgment were diminished by disease.
One family lost $300,000. when a non-diagnosed early stage Alzheimer spouse was embezzeled by a computer scam. Another spouse started gambling and lost the family's life savings before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's is not only a memory-loss disease. Financial decisions need to be made by more than one family member, preferably in consultation with a reputable financial advisor.
"If you see something, say something," a sign in the NY subway, warns us to guard against terrorism; it is also applicable here. Have yourself or your family member tested if you notice signs of disruptive memory loss, increased dependence or irritation, sleep disturbance or non-intentional significant weight loss. We need to change the culture to one of prevention and protection; we need to erase the stigma of reduced cognitive ability.