Dementia, which includes a number of conditions, including Alzheimer’s, robs the elderly of their intelligence, their ability to function, and even of their selves. The disease is a slow death that is taxing on caregivers and expensive to treat, with therapies being thus far ineffective. However, Dr. Dennis Gillings, the now former chair of the World Dementia Council, suggests that a cure may be as little as five years away.

Such a solution cannot come a moment too soon. With an aging world population, tens of millions of people are at risk, putting further strains on health care system and sapping the strength and spirit of those who will be obliged to care for them.

The physical manifestations of Alzheimer’s consists of neural tangles and plaques that interfere with the brain’s ability to function. The decline is slow but inexorable.

First memory starts to go, then intelligence, and then the sufferer is an empty shell, robbed of self-identity, entirely dependent on others for daily existence. Alzheimer’s has blighted both the famous, such as former President Ronald Reagan and actor Charlton Heston, and the ordinary.

Truth to tell, a number of therapies are on the horizon that seems promising. Some Australian researchers have developed an ultrasound treatment that has restored memory and brain function in 75 percent of mice by destroying the amyloid plaques that interfere with brain function.

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Hundreds of drugs are being tested on human patients, some of which will slow the progress of the disease, some of which will even reverse it.

The betting among scientists that a “cure” for Alzheimer’s will not consist of a single drug, but of a cocktail of several drugs that attack different aspects of the disease. Both cancer and HIV/AIDS have been treated in such a fashion to great effect.

Some 50 million people world-wide are afflicted by Alzheimer’s, a number set to explode in the next few decades.

Even a treatment that not so much cures but manages the disease, staving off the crippling effects on brain function, would be a boon to humankind, preventing an incalculable amount of suffering, death, and expense.

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