As the number of people struggling with Alzheimer's continues to rise, researchers are working overtime in hopes of finding a cure — but they can't do it alone.

An exciting development

“There are approximately 100 drugs currently being tested," explains Jeffrey Cummings, M.D., the director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. "About a third are in the advanced phases of testing. Some are promising enough that we believe a preliminary treatment would be available within five years."

“Although research is expensive, it's hugely less expensive than the cost of caring for all these patients.”

The potential new drug aducanumab has been shown to remove the build-up of the Alzheimer’s protein amyloid in the brain and slow the decline in memory and thinking skills in patients. Additionally, the Global Alzheimer’s Platform Foundation (GAP) is working to reduce the time and cost of trials. GAP president John Dwyer explains, "The key to shortening clinical trials is recruiting people. We're in a chronic shortage."

Mary Ann Malack-Ragona, CEO of the Alzheimer's Disease Resource Center, believes thinking outside the box is equally important. "You can't keep doing the same thing over and over. There's great potential out there. We just need to move off the pattern we've been on and start looking in a different direction."

Understanding the cost

By 2050, the cost of Alzheimer's disease in the United States will be $1 trillion dollars, annually.

"No government can absorb those kinds of costs," says Cummings. "Although research is expensive, it's hugely less expensive than the cost of caring for all these patients."

Malack-Ragona notes, "A person with dementia or Alzheimer's usually costs the system three times more than any other disease process."

Support and prevention

Caregivers, usually women, bear the major impact of Alzheimer's. "It affects them at home, in their relationships and at work," says Dwyer. " The caregiver's burden is uncharacteristically heavy and long in duration." Alzheimer's support groups, however, can ease the stress. Malack-Ragona reminds caregivers to "never stand alone" during the journey.

While Alzheimer's can't be prevented, reading, working puzzles, volunteering and learning new things can lower risks. Proper nutrition and regular exercise are also encouraged, along with avoiding cigarettes and getting enough sleep.

A change in awareness

Cummings acknowledges, "There's the idea that having a loved one who's confused is a shameful thing. Many families feel the need to hide it. That's a stigma we'd like to remove." Adds Dwyer, "We should embrace the fact the disease exists, learn how to reduce risks and get involved in finding a cure."

Roughly 5.5 million Americans are battling Alzheimer's. The number could rise to16 million by mid-century. A first-of-its-kind smartphone app will provide information about research trials, starting in June. The first person cured of Alzheimer’s will be a clinical trial participant.