Science broadcaster and writer Jay Ingram speaks with Golden Circle board member Doug Janssen and Janssen’s wife Linda prior to his presentation at Red Deer College Tuesday night. (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Science writer looks at the mystery of Alzheimer’s

Lecture held at Red Deer College

Advances in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease may be eluding researchers so far, but science broadcaster and writer Jay Ingram says studies show the rate of the disease has dropped so there is some good news.

Ingram, who led the public lecture The Alzheimer’s Mystery at Red Deer College on Tuesday, said almost all of the new drugs have failed to slow down the progression of the disease. Since Alzheimer’s takes a long time to develop, maybe medication should be given earlier.

“That’s kind of the current thinking. People are not happy about the failure of candidate drugs, especially the drug companies because they have invested millions. But that may not be the end of that story,” Ingram said before the lecture.

When an effective drug is finally developed, it will take time to test, licence and market, he said.

But not the news is not all bad.

“There are studies that first appeared in Europe, in the Netherlands, England, and now in the U.S., showing that over the last say 20 years or so, it looks like the number of new cases of Alzheimer’s is slowing down. It’s actually declining at least in the developed countries by maybe 20 per cent a year, which is pretty fantastic.

“That’s not a panacea either though because the number of people becoming old — and getting old is the real risk factor for Alzheimer’s — is increasing. So this may not have as dramatic affect on the number of new cases as you might think.”

Nobody really knows the reason for the slowdown. One factor may be that people are living healthier lives. Acquiring education beyond high school is another protection against Alzheimer’s but the reason is not clear. There’s recent speculation on the benefit of air pollution controls, he said.

But what is evident is that Alzheimer’s research has never been funded as much as research for heart disease, cancer or HIV/AIDS. A focus on Alzheimer’s only increased in the mid-1970s, Ingram said.

“About 700,000 Canadians have Alzheimer’s and it’s expected in the next 14 years or so that’s going to be double. It’s going to be 1.5 million even with this apparent slowing down which has not been confirmed in Canada yet.”

Ingram, who co-hosted the Discovery Channel’s science show Daily Planet for 16 years, and also hosted CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks, has written several books including, The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s, released in 2015.

He has worked for the Alberta Prion Research Institute that co-sponsored the Red Deer lecture. Alzheimer Society was the other co-sponsor.

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