Alzheimer’s Disease Spreading Exponentially
Thanks to scientific breakthroughs and lifestyle changes, the death rates from most major forms of disease, such as heart disease and cancer are dropping around the world. Meanwhile, neurological disease is rapidly becoming the leading cause of death in the world. Contrary to popular thought, many forms of brain disease are infectious, including Alzheimer’s disease.
“There has been a resurgence of this sort of thinking, because there is now real evidence of the potential transmissibility of Alzheimer’s,” says Thomas Wiesniewski M.D. a prion and Alzheimer’s researcher at New York University School of Medicine. “In fact, this ability to transmit an abnormal conformation is probably a universal property of amyloid-forming proteins.”
Alzheimer’s disease is killing more than 45 million people today and the numbers are rising rapidly. Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. alone increased 68 percent between 2000 and 2010. Since Alzheimer’s disease barely existed a century ago, it now fits the definition of a global epidemic.
Alzheimer’s disease hits people from all walks of life. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, actor Charlton Heston, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and actress Rita Hayworth are among some of the highest profile cases.
There are 7.7 million new cases of dementia around the globe each year—a new case every four seconds. These numbers are expected to double every 20 years due to a booming elderly population and the possibility that environmental contamination is spreading Alzheimer’s and related diseases.
In countries such as Australia, France, South Korea and England, dementia now is a health priority. Action plans are in place to raise awareness among the general public and health professionals; improve diagnosis, treatment and services for long-term care; and increase the capacity of healthcare systems to respond to the challenge of the dementia epidemic.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicates that costs for dementia care in the U.S. in 2010 were approximately $200 billion, almost twice the amount spent on heart disease and almost triple the amount spent treating cancer.
It’s safe to say that we have explosive growth in Alzheimer’s and other prion-related diseases in humans and animals. The spike in all of these diseases started within the past 25 years.
- In 2010 in the United States, the age-adjusted death rate for Alzheimer’s disease was 26 percent higher for whites than blacks;
- The age-adjusted death rate was 43 percent higher for whites than Hispanics;
- Overall, women had a 30 percent higher risk of dying (27.3 per 100,000 population) from Alzheimer’s disease than men (21.0);
- White women had the highest mortality rate from Alzheimer’s disease, followed by non-Hispanic black women;
- Likewise, among men, the highest age-adjusted death rates were for white men (22.0), followed by non–Hispanic black men (18.2); and
- Hispanic men (16.6) and Hispanic women (19.5) have the lowest death rates for Alzheimer’s disease. Similar variations are happening around the world.
If the current growth rate continues, prion contamination in our food, water, air, healthcare systems and beyond will change life as we know it forever. We can’t afford to underestimate the protein predator known as a prion and it’s role in the Alzheimer’s disease epidemic.