The first baby boomers – those born in the immediate post-World War II years and up until the early 1960s – have turned 65. In the next 20 years, that age segment will make up 20 percent of the United States population at a projected 71 million people.
With the movement come warnings about a concurrent rise in diseases that most prevalently affect the elderly, with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of late-in-life dementia, at the top of the list.
“We think the reason clinical trials [to treat Alzheimer’s] have not been very effective is because we’re intervening too late,” said Dr. Brian R. Ott, director of the Alzheimer’s disease and Memory Disorders Center at Rhode Island Hospital. “It’s [like] treating people for heart attacks and strokes [after] they have their heart attack or stroke. [We need] to be aimed at trying to prevent the disease or delay the onset of frank dementia and disability.”
Ott is one of the driving forces behind the recently launched “Prevent AD: The Rhode Island Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry,” a collaboration with the center, Butler Hospital’s Aging and Memory Program and Memorial Hospital’s Center for Primary Care and Prevention.
The registry is recruiting participants for studies, including the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a multiyear study of biological markers of early Alzheimer’s.
The registry also aims to maintain a list of people who may want to participate in clinical trials for medications and potential symptom-relieving treatments.
Ott said he expects those most interested will be first-degree relatives of Alzheimer’s patients.
“They need to be educated that the disease starts very early and that’s why we need to not wait until it becomes a big problem,” Ott said. “Alzheimer’s probably develops in your 40s and 50s, not your 70s and 80s.”
Carmen Roy, a registered nurse who specializes in geriatric-care management, owns Elder at Home in Pawtucket. She co-leads with Anita Minkin, a licensed social worker, a monthly support group for Alzheimer’s caregivers at their shared offices.