More than 5 million Americans over the age of 65 live with Alzheimer’s, and millions more are expected to develop the disease in the coming decades. By 2050, the number affected could be as high as 16 million. Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and it is responsible for more deaths than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Alzheimer’s doesn’t just impact the people who are suffering from the disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, accounting for an estimated 18.2 billion hours of care valued at over $230 billion. Thirty-five percent of those caregivers report seeing their own health deteriorate due to the responsibilities of care.

To this day, despite an increase in Alzheimer’s research, there is no cure for the disease and no proven way to prevent it. But there are efforts underway now to change how Alzheimer’s could be treated in the future. People who are genetically predisposed to the disease, many of whom are already serving as caretakers for patients with Alzheimer’s, can be part of these advancements.

Focus on prevention

It is very difficult to diagnose Alzheimer’s early, and it is equally challenging to slow the disease once it’s been detected. Currently, there is no single test that can determine whether a person has the disease, though researchers are looking into several potential “biomarkers” — or biological markers that indicate the presence of the disease — that may be able to help doctors identify the early stages of Alzheimer’s in patients.

“More than 5 million Americans over the age of 65 live with Alzheimer’s, and millions more are expected to develop the disease in the coming decades.”

This line of study is part of a larger trend in Alzheimer’s research, one that now emphasizes prevention rather than treatment as the best way to fight the disease. Pushing back the onset of dementia by even five or 10 years, the theory goes, could improve the quality of millions of peoples’ lives. It could also save the American health care system a lot of money. In 2017, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease will cost the nation $259 billion.

As a result, many of the drugs currently being developed by pharmaceutical companies are designed to attempt to stop Alzheimer’s before it starts. That’s why some of today’s most innovative clinical drug trials are looking for different kinds of participants than in years past.

Start participating

For decades, many clinical Alzheimer’s trials focused on people who have already been diagnosed with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, which include memory loss and trouble thinking.

But in addition to those traditional trials, United BioSource Corporation (UBC) and other providers of pharmaceutical support services are increasingly working with sponsors on new kinds of clinical trials that test Alzheimer’s drugs on healthy people — typically relatives of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s — whose genes may put them at greater risk of developing the disease than the general population. Testing for these genes is simple and requires a cheek swab that can easily be done at home or at a local study site.

Some healthcare companies are currently seeking healthy people for clinical trials of Alzheimer’s drugs meant to prevent or delay the onset of symptoms. Those studies are recruiting trial participants who have genes associated with an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  According to UBC, there is a need for 70,000 patients to participate in Alzheimer’s-related clinical trials.

By participating in Alzheimer’s trials, family members and caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients not only help themselves, but help to ensure the health and welfare of future generations. Those who want to learn more about these trials or to find out more about a testing kit can call UBC at 866-244-8907.