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In November 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer delivered some startling findings to his German colleagues: the autopsy explaining his patient Auguste D.'s dementia and death at 56. After he finished presenting his paper titled Regarding a Curious Disease of the Cortex and showing slides of the twisted clumps and threads of protein that are the disease's hallmarks, he waited for the customary questions. There was only silence. Clearly, the conference chairman said finally, there is no desire for discussion.
Today, exactly 100 years after Dr. Alzheimer revealed his discovery, the disease named after him has become a global scourge and obsession. Not a day passes without Alzheimer's disease grabbing headlines. Consider some news from this fall alone:
▸ Studies showed the benefits of eating vegetables, the Mediterranean diet, and omega-3 fatty acids in lowering the risk for Alzheimer's.
▸ A large study found that antipsychotic medications provide little benefit in treating behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's.
▸ A drug that might actually slow the progression of the disease rather than just delay its symptoms has entered the final phase of clinical trials needed for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
All of that is encouraging news. For, unless researchers find ways to slow or halt the disease, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's-currently 4.5 million-will have more than tripled by 2050 to 16 million.
Rest assured, Dr. Alzheimer, people are asking lots of questions now.