Leading the way against Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer's doctors in front of their offices

As Alzheimer’s robs a mind, it steals a life. It’s a tragic diagnosis that is all too common, with more than 5.4 million Americans suffering from the disease today. Predictions are alarming — by 2050, it’s estimated that 10 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s Disease.

By far the most prevalent form of dementia, Alzheimer’s affects one out of every nine Americans over the age of 65, and one out of every three people over age 85. But that could change, thanks to research into prevention and new treatments at KU Medical Center’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

A path to prevention

Jeffrey Burns, M.D., co-director of the center, said if the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms could be delayed for five years across the population, the prevalence would decline by 50 percent.

Burns’ research suggests that something as simple as a healthy diet and 75 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise may delay the onset of the disease and slow the progression of brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s patients. Burns recommends that patients “sit less and move more.” And he is quick to add, “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.”

Exploring new directions

Center director Russell Swerdlow, M.D., leads the Alzheimer’s Treatment Program. Swerdlow and the other KU researchers belong to an elite network of scientists nationwide who are seeking better ways to prevent, treat and reverse the progression of the disease. Their research is supported in part by federal grants; however, he said private gifts during Far Above were vital to establishing the Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

“Philanthropy-supported research differs from grant-supported research,” Swerdlow said. “Philanthropy emboldens you. It lets you take risks and explore new directions. Support from Frank and Evangeline Thompson made all the difference in the world for my Alzheimer’s Treatment Program.”

The center includes research laboratories, clinical spaces and treatment areas for patients and other volunteers to participate in studies. The center opened in 2011 after earning designation through the National Institute of Health’s Institute on Aging. It is one of only 31 nationally designated centers in the United States.