Dr. Dean Reports: As the numbers grow so does the likelihood you will face Alzheimer's in your life. Discover what researchers are learning about this mind robbing condition.
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Karen Waterhouse: I just keep hoping that they find a cure. Male Speaker: Right now, five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. That number has doubled since 1980 and will more than triple again to 16 million by the year 2050. Male Speaker: Healthy brains house our thoughts, control our actions and store the memories of who we are. When Alzheimer’s strikes, healthy brains die. Female Speaker: Sometimes I go, what is the day, I don't have a calendar? Male Speaker: Plaques destroy neurons and memories. Male Speaker: I just don’t remember period. Male Speaker: We think of Alzheimer’s as a disease of old age but that's not always the case. Karen Waterhouse: I was 49 and it just devastated me, and who would ever believe that you could get it at this age. Male Speaker: Karen Waterhouse is one of 450,000 people under the age of 65 with Alzheimer’s. William Klunk: The disease is even uglier I think at this earlier onset. You are in a different stage of your life, more is being asked of you. Male Speaker: It can be misdiagnosed as depression or Parkinson's disease. William Klunkr: The younger you go, the more likely it's caused by a known gene mutation that can be passed from parent to child. Male Speaker: So patients are motivated to find treatments for themselves and their children. William Klunkr: I think we need a coordinated effort to maximize their volunteerism, coupled to the most sensible sorts of clinical trials. Male Speaker: While it's believed that gene mutation causes early onset, there is also new research about the causes of the more common late onset Alzheimer’s. Suzanne de la Monte: We stumbled then to the concept, it wasn’t like we’re looking for it. Male Speaker: Like the pancreas, a healthy brain produces insulin. In a brain with Alzheimer’s, insulin levels are much lower. Suzanne de la Monte: They have a brain form of diabetes. They have the insulin resistance, and they have the loss of insulin and that's why we dub the term Type 3 diabetes. Male Speaker: Researchers gave mice drugs to stop insulin from working. Within months their brains were half their size and full of harmful plaque. Suzanne de la Monte: This is the brain they got the drug that basically knocks out the insulin. Male Speaker: Damage was reversed with drugs and improved insulin function showing that therapies to treat diabetes may also treat Alzheimer’s. Another important avenue of research is in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Gary Small: People get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease after they have had it for several years and so I think we do two little too late. These brown areas are tangles. Male Speaker: The only way to confirm Alzheimer’s has been an autopsy after death. But, now researchers at UCLA have developed a new imaging technique that detects it in the living brain even before symptoms start. Gary Small: So years before the person would actually have symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, we could detect it. Male Speaker: A small molecule injected into patients binds to abnormal proteins in the brain and allows doctors to see spots where Alzheimer’s is following from very early, too late in the disease. Gary Small: People who are very normal may get a test like this and get started on a preventive medicine, so they may live a long life and never get Alzheimer’s disease. Male Speaker: While she waits for a breakthrough, Karen just lives as fully as she can for as long as she can. Karen Waterhouse: I am just hoping that they find a cure, because I don’t know I feel that's the only way that I'm ever going to get to see grand kids and enjoy with them.