I’ve become quite forgetful. Sometimes I have to gasp for mental air for a familiar name to come to mind. I am constantly using the Internet on my iPhone to remind me of the names of movies, actors in movies, favorite songs, rock bands and an assortment of other data that seems to have just slipped from my recall. Is this part of the normal process of aging or something unusual, I often wonder.
Perhaps inevitably, my forgetfulness (or it is memory loss?) leads me to ponder questions about the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. A recent report on baby boomers by the Alzheimer’s Association paints a staggering picture of the impact of the illness today in the U.S.: 5.3 million people have the disease, it’s the sixth leading cause of death, its annual costs to society $172 billion, and there are 10.9 million unpaid caregivers. If these numbers are scary, just consider Alzheimer’s toll by mid-century as the baby boomers explode into their senior years. The numbers will be catastrophic in many ways. How will the healthcare system cope with the impact?
I’ve wanted for some time to talk to our experts about Alzheimer’s disease, so I turned to Frank Longo, MD, PhD, a professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences here. Longo is a clinician who diagnoses and treats patients with the illness at the Stanford Center for Memory Disorders and also a researcher whose lab is seeking to discover effective therapeutics for the disease.
I had a laundry list of questions. What’s the normal process of memory loss, and what’s not? What’s the current state of the illness? Are we able to detect the onset of Alzheimer’s at an early stage of the disease? What happens to the brain as the disease captures it? What are amyloids and what is their relationship to the disease? Are some people more apt to develop the illness than others? Is there hope amid the staggering despair? My latest 1:2:1 podcast is a wide-ranging discussion about the illness that I hope you’ll find of interest.