Are you 65 years old?  If so, your risk of getting Alzheimer’s is 1 in 20.  70 years old – 1 in 10.  At 75 years, it narrows to 1 in 5.  Frightening – you bet!

The extent of this devastating disease is monumental. Alzheimer’s is the 6thleading cause of death in the nation and the only killer in the top 10 with no disease-modifying drugs nor cure.

More than 5.4 million people in the United States are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, with women disproportionately affected.  About 10% of the nation’s Alzheimer’s patients are Californians.

Not only is the impact of Alzheimer’s on our loved ones horrifying, therapid growth in the prevalence of the disease is straining our health care system and significantly increasing health care costs. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2016, total payments for health care, long-term care and hospice are estimated to be $236 billion for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, with just under half of the costs borne by Medicare. Unless something is done, in 2050, Alzheimer’s is projected to cost more than $1 trillion (in 2016 dollars). This dramatic rise portends a nearly five-fold increase in government spending under Medicare and Medicaid – programs lacking long term financial stability.

The Association indicates that California businesses will also be significantly impacted by the growth in the number of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease. Among employed caregivers, 71% work full-time and 29% are part-time employees. Because many caregivers miss work, reduce their work hours, or change jobs, California’s employers experience an estimated $1.4 billion in lost productivity annually from full-time employed caregivers alone

According to UC Irvine’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND), the numbers of those suffering from Alzheimer’s is expected to explode as people live longer. Today, 50 % of those who turn 80 years old have this horrific disease.  Research indicates that those born after the year 2000 will have a 50% chance of living to 100 years old. So, the increase in the numbers of men and women who will fall to this disease is almost unfathomable to contemplate.  It is a reality that will soon arrive unless preventive measures are stepped up and a cure found.

Congress recently upped federal funding for Alzheimer’s research to the tune of $900 million this year, but this amount seems like only a down payment, given the impact of this disease.

The State of California had been funding clinical research to UCI MIND at approximately $500,000 a year, but cut that funding in half in 2009, eliminating the half dedicated to research.  The critical need to step up the funding of transformational clinical research, which will lead to prevention of this fatal disease, cannot be overstated.

Considerable research has and will continue to focus on the underlying causes and risk factor of Alzheimer’s, developing drug intervention, improving diagnosis and treatment, and promoting brain health.

UC Irvine is leading the way in exploring the use of stem cells as a potential treatment, among other strategies.  And, prolonging healthy aging is a primary objective of the Institute.

So how can you tune up your brain cells and beat the odds?  At a recent meeting with women high achievers, UCI Dean Frank LaFerla and Professor Mahtab Jafari suggested several strategies: pursue a plant-based diet along with plenty of fish; walk 30 minutes a day; manage stress; increase your social contacts; and continually learn something new.  Don’t rely just on doing Sudoku every day.  All that does is improve your Sudoku skills.  Learn a language or take on a difficult task you know nothing about.

Meanwhile, breakthroughs in the fight against Alzheimer’s are sure to occur, so we should be full of hope. Rose, a dementia patient in the book, “The Inspired Caregiver”, landed it when she said, “Never give up hope.  If you do, you’ll be dead already.”