For many patients and their families, the scientific investigation on Alzheimer’s constitutes the hope of improving prevention efforts, diagnosis and treatment of this disease that is the fourth cause of death in Puerto Rico.

La investigación sobre el Alzheimer es la esperanza

The allocation of $ 2.393 billion that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requested from the US government is crucial to develop more effective treatments against this neurodegenerative condition, which is already considered a public health epidemic among the elderly population.

The new research would facilitate the development of programs that better detect cases in their early stages and provide greater precision in diagnosis and treatment. The findings so far have allowed to delay the advance of damage to areas of the brain that govern memory, thinking, speech and physical activity.

Alzheimer's usually starts after sixty, which is the case in Puerto Rico. According to the local Health Department, those over 60 make up 98 percent of the cases reported to the agency. When the incidence is distributed by gender, it turns out that 65.3 percent of the people who suffer from the condition are women. By the end of 2017, there were 17.295 cases registered, according to the Health Department.

The factors that affect the recurrence of degenerative brain disorders in women, which have a higher life expectancy than men should be investigated. Research on the variables associated with this incidence can help in the development of more effective and less expensive treatments. These range from medications to ways of caring for the patient.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has identified treatments for Alzheimer's among the ones that cost more money for families and health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, even over cancer and other conditions for which a cure hasn’t been found.

The entity estimates that, on average, families devote close to $ 20,000 a year for patient care.  Limited resources for many families on the island prevents them from affording this cost.

The increasing cost of caring for people with this type of dementia feeds the pertinence of the studies carried out by the National Institute on Aging, which is part of the NIH. The advances reported are based on focusing the research on the biological changes in the brain, rather than on the symptoms, in order to reach more accurate diagnoses and to implement new methodologies of therapies. This approach may also help to redirect the use of experimental drugs in clinical investigations.

The funds requested by NIH for fiscal year 2020 include increases for new research and for projects that will produce treatmentproposals by 2025. Also, for an increase in the amount allocated to programs for the patient and their caregiver. They represent an avenue to help the person caring for the patient, to face the dramatic changes in behavior and personality associated with a chronic, progressive and irreversible disease.

That is why campaigns that guide family members, caregivers and health professionals are fundamental complements of scientific studies.

On September 21, many countries will celebrate World Alzheimer's Day. The occasion, instituted by the World Health Organization, provides activities to raise awareness and promote knowledge about a disease that affects thousands of people on the island.

The time has come to grant the funding and priority that this issue deserves, in order to promote a better quality of life for patients and their families.

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