Close to 50 million Americans could be in the early stages leading to Alzheimer’s disease right now, according to a new forecast.
And 6 million people likely have it now, the team at the University of California Los Angeles calculated.
The forecast is based on a lot of supposition as well as some hard data, but it’s the best estimate of how badly Alzheimer’s will affect the country in the coming years, said Keith Fargo of the Alzheimer’s Association, who was not involved in the research.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time someone has done this type of estimate,” said Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association.
For the unusual study, Ron Brookmeyer, a biostatistician at the University of California, Los Angeles and colleagues collected all the data they could find from studies of Alzheimer’s disease.
To calculate who was at risk of Alzheimer’s they used measures including a buildup of a protein in the brain called amyloid, the loss of brain cells, and the loss of memory and skills such as reading and writing.
They used other studies including a look at 1,500 volunteers who live around the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which included healthy people who have no particular risk of Alzheimer’s. They used studies of people with mild cognitive impairment — memory loss that can lead to Alzheimer’s — and people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia.
And they looked at actual reports of people who have Alzheimer’s disease now.
Then they made calculations to predict how many people are likely progressing to Alzheimer’s right now, although they may not know it.
“It’s virtually all extrapolation. It’s looking at some real community-based cohorts that have been studies,” said Fargo.
“But it’s not a matter of going systematically through the population. It’s very much a model-based estimate.”
But it uses solid data and methods that should at least be a start at predicting the future toll of Alzheimer’s, said Fargo.
“For the first time, scientists have attempted to account for numbers of people with biomarkers or other evidence of possible preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, but who do not have impairment or Alzheimer’s dementia,” the National Institutes of Health, which helped pay for the study, said in a statement.
“People with such signs of preclinical disease are at increased risk to develop Alzheimer’s dementia.”
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SOURCE: NBC News, Maggie Fox