Why No Cure for Dementia?
October 7, 2020 by patwhite67
With permission from Dr. Cheryl Achterberg, Ph.D., I am sharing her informative article with you:
Why is there no cure for dementia? It is a common lament, especially among family members and caregivers. There are three main reasons that I can tell. First, dementia research is underfunded. Second, the science is hard. And third, the brain does not regenerate. Let me explain.
Dementia Research is Underfunded
Dementia research is underfunded, receiving only 5% or less of what cancer or heart disease research receives. Even though dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease in particular, has been identified for more than 100 years, it has not had much public attention until recently. We have an aging population and the aged are living longer. So, there are more cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia now, and many more people are afraid of the disease. Sadly, it is not viewed as an urgent problem.
Dementia is slippery. It sneaks up slowly and is often dismissed or hidden until it can’t be brushed aside anymore. There is also a stigma attached to this disease that curbs attention broadly. Other more urgent issues tend to dominate. Today, for example, COVID-19 has taken up all our attention. However, public pressure could help change policy and win more funding for dementia-related research.
That said, I am pleased to share with you a new initiative starting September 30, 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act (P.L. 115-406). Three recipients will establish dementia-focused Public Health Centers of Excellence and Public Health Programs. The University of Minnesota is one of the recipients and they will focus on dementia caregiving. The national Alzheimer’s Association will focus on dissemination of public health strategies and resources aimed at reducing risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
The Science is Hard
The science is hard. Money isn’t the only issue. Dementia presents an especially difficult problem set. I say “set” because there are many kinds of dementia with different causes and different courses, but the same end or outcome. A common saying is, “It’s not rocket science” when confronting a challenge. But brain science is more challenging than a dozen different rockets. The brain is far more complicated with an estimated trillion cells, and trillions upon trillions of reactions happening constantly. It is, of course, nearly inaccessible despite new imaging technologies. We can’t just open people’s skulls for study without very good reasons. Yet, we know the brain is “plastic.” That is, changing or adjusting with time but constantly organizing and coordinating its own and all the body’s other reactions as well.
Since Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias take so long to develop, they are extraordinarily costly to study. Participants should be followed for 20 years or more, to observe the “before and after” along with what happens in-between. Animal models are limited for dementia too. Finally, recruiting human subjects into research studies about dementia is difficult, especially in diverse communities. People are reluctant to sign up, in part due to the stigma attached to the disease. It will take dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of scientists to figure these diseases out.
The Brain Does Not Regenerate
The brain does not regenerate. Dementia in all its forms causes the brain to self-destruct. A “cure” would rebuild or replace the tissue that was lost. We can rebuild muscle therapeutically and joints mechanically, and we can replace kidneys or livers by transplant. These options are impossible with the brain. When brain cells die, they are gone forever. If relatively few cells are injured or killed, the brain will often compensate. Other cells will take over that function inside an individual. But the lost cells are never replaced. In Alzheimer’s disease, it is typical to lose 1/3 of the brain’s volume. Compensation can’t cover for that loss.
The hope for more research is to find a drug or combination of drugs that will halt the destruction. That is the best we can hope for along with diagnostics that will identify the disease before symptoms become obvious. Then, some of the new therapies might have a better chance of working.
What Can You Do?
September is World Alzheimer’s Month and YOU can help.
You can donate to Alzheimer’s research at:
You can participate in Alzheimer’s and related dementia research studies by contacting:
- Alzheimer’s Association Trial Match (for individuals diagnosed and not diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease at [email protected] or 1-800-272-3900
And you can learn more about funding and research at:
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