Each day in 2011 more than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65. While the opportunity to retire is cause for celebration the possibility of losing your mind and memory to a disease with no cure grows greater.
Cognitive impairment is on the rise in the United States. A 2008 study by the Duke University Medical Center found more than five million elderly Americans have significant cognitive decline. Combined with the 3.4 million Americans already suffering from dementia, more than a third of people over 70 have diminished mental function.
As the population of Americans 65 and older will likely increase by 31 percent in the next two decades, the possibility of developing some form of cognitive impairment will increase.
There are at least 70 forms of dementia. Meaning deprived of the mind; dementia is a loss of cognitive function such as thinking, reasoning and memory that is severe enough to hamper a person’s daily functioning.
Dementia is broken into two groups – reversible dementia and irreversible dementia. Reversible dementia can be caused by alcohol, stroke, depression or brain damage, among other things. Medication can also cause some patients to develop dementia. Many forms of reversible dementia can be treated with simple medication or talk therapy.
With irreversible dementia – medication can do little to help and not much progress in treatment plans have been made so far.
“It has been hard to find things that are proven to work. It’s like with Vitamin E – it was given to prevent heart problems but randomized trials showed Vitamin E killed more people than it saved. There have been treatments that looked promising but nothing proved to be beneficial,” said Dr. Scott Sherman, the interim chief of the section of Geriatric Medicine at the NYU Department of Medicine.
Unlike most health care issues, money is not the problem. The National Institute of Health spends millions each year on dementia and Alzheimer’s research. In 2009, the NIH devoted $534 million to research and development. According to Sherman little is known about how the brain functions, what are the underlying causes of the disease and what innovative ideas are available
A 2009 study found that high blood pressure could lead to dementia. Another says poor vision is the cause. Some studies claim moderate drinking can reduce the risk, while another says a diet rich in fish wards off the disease. But even those without high blood pressure and poor vision develop dementia. And fish eaters who drink are still susceptible.