An estimated 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and every 65 seconds another person in the U.S. is diagnosed. Despite these daunting figures, doctors say the outlook for treatment, as well as the possibility of a cure, is bright.

“Our goal now is to turn Alzheimer’s from a fatal disease to a chronic disease,” says Dr. Ira Goodman, a medical director and neuroscientist at Bioclinica Research who has worked on over 100 clinical trials. “Then the next step is to make the chronic disease reversible.”

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is a progressive disease marked by memory loss and problems with cognitive abilities.

Currently there are several FDA-approved drugs to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but no treatments have been shown to slow or stop the progression of the disease.

The future of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed and tracked by examining biomarkers – the biological signs of disease – including brain images, blood and cerebrospinal fluid.

Brain scans of people with Alzheimer’s show two abnormal protein buildups: beta-amyloid protein “plaque” in the spaces between nerve cells, as well as twisted “tangles” of a protein named tau. Both lead to the destruction of brain cells.

The biggest misconception is that there’s nothing you can do.

Dr. Goodman is optimistic there will soon be more precise biomarkers and better ways to read them.

“We’ll have a good disease modifying treatment out hopefully within the next five years,” he says, noting treatment will likely include a combination of drugs that work together to attack different pathologies.

The federal government’s National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease has set a goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s Disease by 2025.

Current prevention strategies include not smoking, reducing stress and inflammation, following a low carb diet and getting regular exercise – many of the same things that can help reduce heart disease risks.

Clinical trials matter

“The biggest misconception is that there’s nothing you can do,” says Dr. Goodman, who calls clinical trials essential.

Nationally, there are over 250 active clinical trials exploring new treatment methods of Alzheimer’s, including over 30 at Bioclinica.

However, the clinical trials don’t always have enough participants because patients and caregivers don’t know about them or are reluctant to participate for a number of reasons. These reasons include thinking it’s too late to get treatments and assuming enough people have already enrolled.

“The first person cured is going to come out of a clinical trial, and who knows who that’s going to be?” Dr. Goodman asks. “And who knows when the next drug is going to hit that’s going to be a game changer?