Living to 100 or longer is now, scientifically speaking, a reasonable expectation for those born in the next generation. That’s startling since just a century ago, the average life span fell short of 50. Today, it’s fast approaching 80. But too many live out those extra days tethered to oxygen tanks and dialysis machines, or counting the hours between pills. Dementia, crumbling bones, macular degeneration, obesity-driven diseases and diabetes-related ailments increasingly rob seniors of even a smooth walk to the kitchen or a coherent conversation with a neighbor.
And while medical science has advanced treatments for cancer and heart disease to prolong life, Alzheimer’s awaits a cure or treatment that significantly slows its destructive nature. It’s the most expensive per-capita medical condition to treat. Patients can suffer through the slow grind of dementia for years. And the costs to help Alzheimer’s patients live some degree of normality are enormous.
While research is accelerating, the urgency to cope with the disease today is rapidly increasing. By some scientific estimates, people over the age of 85 have a 50 percent chance of getting Alzheimer’s. As more and more people live well into their 70s and 80s, the risk of Alzheimer’s grows exponentially.
Alzheimer’s disease is the dark side of the longevity revolution. It will create a devastating economic and social tsunami in the decade ahead. Science will make inroads, but institutions — nursing homes, longevity centers and medical complexes — designed to treat age-related illnesses are not prepared for the scope of challenges Alzheimer’s will create.
Investment in research will sharply accelerate. It will focus on preventing dementia, studying lifestyle changes to cope with the disease and treating developed symptoms. Moreover, from hospitals to skilled-care professionals, and from home health care to professional medical specialties, services and products to help dementia patients will skyrocket.