You can’t escape the seemingly ubiquitous news stories about the latest cure for Alzheimer’s. There is only one problem: None of them are true.
Some are simply frauds. But many are over-hyped interpretations of serious research. You know the story…In what may be a major breakthrough in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease…
Over at Changingaging.org. Dr. Al Power wrote a terrific blog post the other day about how wishful thinking–and not a little greed–has combined to overwhelm good science when it comes to dementia research. We so want to believe in a cure that we are prepared to believe every rumor, false lead, or half-baked study that suggests a solution is near.
Dr. Power, a geriatrician, associate professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester, and member of the board at Eden Alternative, described the problem this way:
The media feeds the frenzy by highlighting every study with even a whiff of possibility as the next breakthrough. And the researchers certainly pick up on this and use the media hype to get their names out there in the public eye.
It is time to get real–both in setting the goals of research and in the way we conduct and report these studies. Irresponsible reporting does not help our cause and actually harms our efforts to improve the lives of people with dementia.
He is absolutely right. One consequence is that precious dollars are pumped into research aimed at a cure or prevention while almost no resources are available to help learn how to better care for people who already have dementia or for training or other assistance for their caregivers.
This battle over dollars has been going on for a long time. Drug companies, academics, and high profile advocacy groups such as the Alzheimer’s Association focus almost entirely on increasing research dollars for cure and treatment.
The Obama Administration’s recently-announced National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease is also heavily weighted towards cure and prevention. Only about 15 percent of the $156 million the White House hopes to spend on this initiative is aimed at assisting people with the disease and their caregivers (and even some of that is for data collection, not direct support).
To be sure, the plan says all the right words about the need for clinical and caregiver supports. But its priorities lie elsewhere: Big bucks research projects aimed at cure and prevention.
As we think about this goal, we should keep two thoughts in mind: The first is there are many different dementias–as many as 100–and each likely has a unique cause and thus will require a unique approach. The second is that potential profits for developing successful drugs to treat these diseases are enormous and, thus, pharmacuetical companies will keep working to find solutions with or without government support.
This is not to say we shouldn’t continue to work towards a cure. Of course we should.
Not only is this research important for its own sake, but as long-time seniors’ advocate John Rother has argued, the best solution to the nation’s long-term care financing crisis may be a cure for dementia.
But so far, research is teaching us that these diseases are very complicated and progress towards cures or treatments is very slow. That’s why we should be working a lot harder to learn how best to care for people with these diseases.