As millions of aging Americans face cognitive decline, waiting for a cure to dementia is not an adequate plan for the future. So, TEDMED facilitated a live discussion about some possible solutions to the dementia epidemic with health care experts this week, as part of its Great Challenges series.
By 2020, there will be 43 million Americans 65 and older, 15 million 85 and older- double the numbers of 1980. The costs of dementia-related care will more than double by 2040, according to new findings published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
One of the most important solutions will be training all health care professionals about the issues of the aging population, said Dr. Sharon Brangman, a professor of medicine and division chief of geriatric medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University. ”The fastest growing segment of our population are those people 85 and older, where the biggest risk for Alzheimer’s disease is.”
Echoing Brangman’s ideas about educating doctors and pharmacists was Dr. Guy S. Eakin, vice president of scientific affairs at the BrightFocus Foundation.
“The scale of the problem is huge. Right now, less than 1 percent of our nurses, our physicians assistants, and our pharmacists are certified in geriatrics, but 26 percent of their patient visits are from geriatric populations,” Eaken said. “That’s a huge discrepancy and training programs are necessary.”
The discussion was not intended to formulate concrete solutions, but provoke thoughts about possible remedies to address cognitive disease and the barriers to achieving them. For example, George Vradenburg, the chairman and co-founder of the USAgainstAlzheimer’s Network, noted the lack of funding available for research.
“Today we spend about $6 billion on cancer research, $3 billion on HIV and AIDS research, and less than $500 million a year on Alzheimer’s and dementia research,” Vradenburg said, while acknowledging concern about the sequester’s impact on medical grants through the National Institutes of Health. “The cost problem is an enormous one in this country.”
How can individuals help lower their chances of getting dementia? Brangman suggested exercise- even just walking to the mall from farther parking spots. Vradenburg said there may be a relation between cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. “Being healthy gives you greater resistance to disease, but it doesn’t stop the disease,” he said.
Still, despite the lack of funding and volunteers in the U.S. for dementia research, “there really is no system doing it better,” Brangman said. “I really think the United States is the leader, we see a demographic shift in the whole world, where there are fewer young people.”
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