There are an estimated 4.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease. This progressive brain disorder robs a person of his or her memory, and ability to learn and reason. Overtime, those suffering from the disease lose their ability to communicate and carry out daily activities and that need extensive care from loved ones and health professionals.
While Alzheimer's has no cure, there is a new drug that slows the onset of the disease in people with mild memory problems.
Seventy-four year old Frances Richmond has what doctor's call "mild cognitive impairment." "Forgetting where I put things, not being able to bring up names was very bad," explains Mr. Richmond.
Dr. Stephen Salloway of Brown Medical School explains the condition. "Where they have trouble is short-term memory, remembering what they read in the newspaper, remembering the details of a movie, remembering a telephone message."
Most patients with these early memory problems go on to develop full-blown Alzheimer's disease within a few years.
But a new drug, called Aricept, is helping to slow down the onset of the disease. Aricept helps nerve cells in the brain better communicate with each other. It is already widely used by Alzheimer's patients. In people with milder memory problems, researchers have seen benefits for at least a year.
Dr. Ronald Petersen of the Mayo Clinic says, "It is the first demonstration of any ability to push back the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. They didn't develop other cognitive problems like problem - solving, reading, writing, and calculations. So all of those other thinking functions remained relatively stable."
In some cases, patients on Aricept remained stable for up to three years. Researchers say now that there's a way to postpone Alzheimer's disease, more Americans will likely be tested, at the first sign of a failing memory.