CORNER BROOK — One in five baby boomers will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
That is more than the billions of dollars the chronic disease is costing health-care systems globally, Dr. Howard Bergman said, and that is the most striking statistic.
Bergman is an internationally recognized scientist on aging, in particular on health services and policy, frailty and chronic disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. He addressed the Aging Research in Newfoundland and Labrador: Achievements and Prospects conference held in Corner Brook Monday.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s symptoms first appear after age 60.
Bergman said the disease is misunderstood and underestimated, as well as being underfunded in terms of research. However, there is a considerable amount of time and effort being put into Alzheimer’s and related diseases through the Quebec Alzheimer Plan. His speech Monday was pertaining to the never-ending cycle from practice to policy to research, and back.
The prevalence of the disease makes this study and research of significant importance, possibly worldwide, he said.
“The (World Health Organization) recently said it’s perhaps the greatest public-health challenge globally,” Bergman said.
“It is a very complex disease with a massive impact on the health-care system, and massive impact on the acute-care hospital.”
The doctor said there is evidence the incidents of Alzheimer’s may be declining, and he attributes that to the probability of better control of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes and other health issues.
The Quebec Alzheimer Plan is preparing for the increasing number of new cases per year, said Bergman.
“We don’t know when that will come, but it will come, when we have a real disease-modifying medication,” he said. “When that day comes, everybody who has forgotten wherever they have put their glasses, from the age of 40 up, will want to have that medication.”
One audience member was impressed with the level of government support for Quebec Alzheimer Plan. Bergman admitted it was a bit of surprise to him too, but said it was not as simple to get to this stage as it appears in a presentation. he said the report was filed two years before it was put into action, and it required the support of various people to make it happen.
The first years of the program are study and evaluation, a complicated and multidisciplinary partnership between many scientists and health-care providers, but after that Bergman said things could go any which way.
“There’s lots of room for things not to happen well,” he said. “... I am still concerned with how this is going to come about. The idea is for these projects to develop with innovation, to have project managers who we can hire that aren’t necessary part of the ministry already — to give some sort of independence. We will see how it plays out.”