I’ve had a new doctor for the past year, a young woman in her thirties. My first medical exam with her turned up no interesting ailments or complaints, so this year she decided to expand her search by giving me one of those crude, mental fitness tests. Apparently, I passed because she shrugged, looking a little bored, and told me to return in a year for my next physical.
As I left the doctor’s office, I almost felt I should apologize for being uninteresting. Still, I know my good health can’t go on forever and I admit, my greatest fear is mental decline. At the moment there are no effective treatments for the various forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s, for example, is number 6 among the top 10 killers in the United States and with the burgeoning aging population, the number of deaths from the disease are bound to increase. By 2025, those afflicted will balloon from the current 5.3 million to 8 million. (“Memory Thief,” by Erika Fry, May 2015, Fortune, pg.82)
I’ll do what I can to protect my health, but as the cause of dementia is unknown, a sense of futility haunts me. Carrying a flashlight to hunt Snipes is as practical as worrying about a disease for which there is no defense, I know; but logic holds little sway over my fears.
Drug companies have been working on the problem of dementia with an almost religious zeal. For them a treatment represents a financial bonanza. Medicare costs to manage the disease are projected to hit $1.1 trillion dollars by 2050. (Ibid, pg. 82)
As grim as the data seems, the tide of research over the past 20 years has recently turned. Someone suggested a new approach. Instead of studying those afflicted with the illness, why not study the elderly who are symptom free? That research has led to a promising discovery: adu, an antibody derived “from genetic information expressed in the immune cells of those elderly donors.” (Ibid pg. 84) So far, test results which include adu in the treatment of dementia have proved to be more than satisfactory. Some are calling the antibody a medical breakthrough. But to prove it, new studies must follow, working backwards from humans to mice. (Ibid pg. 84)
Still there’s excitement in pharmaceutical-land. Some researchers have predicted a drug for Alzheimer’s may be on the market by 2018. (Ibid pg. 86) That’s good news for the elderly, like me, who hope to keep their wits about them for at least another 3 years. What I want, more than anything, is to go on boring to my doctor.