100 Years and Still Searching…

Let’s take a step back in time, way back, to the year 1906. If we visited the Frankfurt Mental Asylum, perhaps we could peer over the shoulder of Dr. Alois Alzheimer as he obsessed over the cause behind the strange behaviors of a 51-year-old patient – and soon after, discovered the abnormal, tangled clumps and fibers that led him to self-name a newly discovered disease: Alzheimer’s.

Now step back into 2017, to find another 5 million + people with those same unusual behaviors, the same abnormal, tangled clumps and fibers that we now know to be amyloid plaques and tau. Those of us in the aging care industry are anxiously waiting with bated breath for news of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and turning a bit blue in the face as an effective treatment (or even a cause) continues to elude researchers, despite the $480 million spent in annual research. ARGH!

The latest disappointing results, in a string of others, stemmed from testing the effects of stopping the production of plaque – which failed to help those with even mild to moderate dementia. And yet, thankfully, researchers are determined to learn from failure and press on, even in light of the risk of astronomical financial loss. After all, this projected cumulative loss of mental faculties for us as we age is beyond measure in toll on families and personal finances as well.

Added to the conundrum is the infamous “nun study” that hinted of the possibility of a positive outlook on life impacting a person’s potential for developing the disease. Where do these kinds of outlying results fit in? And, will today’s emphasis on fitness and mindfulness affect the onset of this insidious disease?

So where do we go from here? As Albert Einstein pointed out, “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting the same result.”

Hopefully, the pharmaceutical companies dedicated to solving the Alzheimer’s puzzle take that into account. And yet, perhaps a better perspective is that of Thomas Edison, who, upon being questioned about his lack of success after 3,000 different electrical light theories, responded:

“Results! Why man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

Although we’re still left empty-handed when it comes to a cause or a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, let’s hope for a light bulb moment in the minds of those who continue to search – and for a generation that soon knows only of Alzheimer’s disease through history lessons.