TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A life forgotten and erased, Alzheimer’s patients often look at family and friends as if it’s the very first time they’ve seen them. With more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and so many others with some sort of dementia, the illnesses affect everyone.
There is hope in the way that Alzheimer’s is fought that could make it no longer a threat for future generations.
For couple Nancy and Ronald Sweet they’ve not walked but instead danced down the road of life for 17 years.
“Well, Rumba, Argentine Tango, swing,” says Ronald.
Dancing ballroom has kept their hearts beating at the same pace, but these days Nancy’s mind is having trouble keeping step.
“Nancy developed Alzheimer’s and was diagnosed officially, almost 6 years ago,” says Ronald.
Now there are new drugs to help those, like Nancy, fighting this disease of the brain. There are also ways to prevent it, so future generations won’t have to suffer like many victims of dementia today.
The Sweets are dealing with a disease that has become an epidemic in America.
“And it’s getting bigger and bigger. As the baby boomer generation is aging the number of people with dementia in this country is going to quadruple by 2050,” says Dr. Amanda Smith, the medical director of the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute.
Dementia is an umbrella term to explain the change in function and memory loss.
“There are lots of things that can cause dementia. Alzheimer’s is by far the most common,” says Dr. Smith. “A lot of our focus here and internationally is on Alzheimer’s disease because it’s a specific pathology that we think we know.”
But, there is progress in preventing the buildup of amyloid; a protein in the brain thought to cause dementia.
“Several of the drugs that are in development now target amyloid and either stop it from forming or remove it from the brain,” says Dr. Smith.
There’s also tests that scan early on for amyloid build up in the brain but it’s expensive. As much as $4,000 and insurance companies don’t cover it. That could change for future generations.
“Ultimately we hope that it will be no different than getting a colonoscopy or a mammogram,” says Dr. Smith.
For the Sweets they’re grateful for any science or medicine that will give them one more dance together.
“We still get to dance once in a while, and still get to have fun,” says Ronald.
Other preventative measures that we can all do right now include
- getting plenty of physical activity
- take part in mentally stimulating activities
- be social
- eating a healthy Mediterranean diet – low in saturated fats, and high in green leafy vegetables and antioxidants