As the aging baby boomer generation grows, so does the projected incidence of Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the United States. Currently, 5.4 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer's and 7.7 million new dementia cases are diagnosed every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that number is expected to double by 2060.
The study, published last month in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, is the first to look at race and ethnicity in relation to dementia and its future. September is World Alzheimer's Month, and this study is part of the effort to increase awareness.
"Although the primary risk factor for ADRD [Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias] is age, race and ethnicity is also an important demographic risk factor," the study said.
Of the 5.4 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's or related dementias in 2014, the highest prevalence was in African-Americans at 13.8 percent. Asian and Pacific Islanders had the lowest prevalence at 8.4 percent.
"This study shows that as the U.S. population increases, the number of people affected by Alzheimer's disease and related dementias will rise, especially among minority populations," said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a press release.
Ayla Alvarez, a health sciences freshman at USC, has experience coping with Alzheimer's disease for the past 10 years. Her grandma was diagnosed at 62, and struggles to recognize her own granddaughter.
"It's terrifying to think that I might get [Alzheimer's] when I'm older," Alvarez said. "My grandma has it, and she's 72, so it's just sad knowing that there's no cure yet. If no cure or preventative measure are released in the future, then I'm scared that I'll get it too."
The National Institution of Health (NIH) plans to combat the projected increase in Alzheimer's with the same intensity as the attacks on AIDS and cancer. Legislation was passed in 2012 to "accelerate the development of treatments that would prevent, halt or reverse the course of Alzheimer's" and "improve the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and coordination of the care and treatment of citizens with Alzheimer's by 2025."
This goal, while ambitious, may not be out of reach.
One promising study, led by USC Research Assistant Professor of Gerontology Kelvin Yen, linked an increase in the levels of humanin (a mitochondrial-derived peptide) to the prevention of age-related cognitive decline. By increasing the level of humanin in elderly mice, Yen said that he and his team "were able to prevent the natural decline in cognition that occurs with increase in age."
"New research and possible cures are being developed constantly," Yen said. "What we found isn't a cure, but it is a step in the right direction."