Why the need for breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research is urgent
Ric Edelman: It's Thursday, June 1st, and I've got some bad news. It's going to be years before we see any revolutionary treatment or cure for Alzheimer's disease. There are promising drugs in development, but they're years away from being available. We already have 13 million people in the United States alone who have mild cognitive impairment. 2000 people every day move from mild to moderate levels of dementia. 10,000 Americans reach age 65 every day. And that means more and more are developing symptoms of this disease.
The only big drug right now is Leqembi. And Medicare only pays if you're in a clinical trial. That means everybody else has to pay on their own. This drug costs $26,500 per year. Can you afford two grand a month on top of your current expenses? I didn't think so.
And even though we've already got 6 million Alzheimer's patients right now, we don't have enough doctors who specialize in it. We need more geriatricians, neurologists and radiologists who specialize in diseases of the brain. Patients are currently waiting 6 to 12 months to see a neurologist who treats dementia. The wait for a dementia specialist is 18 months. And we've got a decline in the number of radiologists. They're the ones who help diagnose the disease.
A study from the University of Southern California says patients who are seeking their first specialist visit could wait 20 months. And by 2028, that's only five years from now, the wait will be four years. Yeah, it's a really discouraging situation.
And by the way, when you finally do get to see one of these specialists, they're going to want to run a test to confirm if you have Alzheimer's. And there are only two types of tests that can diagnose the disease, a PET scan or a spinal tap. While there is a third, it's an autopsy. Let's ignore that one. I've yet to see the patient willing to have an autopsy to see if they've got the disease.
I digress. Pet scan or Spinal Tap? A PET scan is cumbersome and expensive. You're injected with a tracer and then you go into a machine that takes pictures Other than the injection, it's painless. It's like an MRI or an X-ray. But the tracers have to be made for each patient and they've got to be used the day they're made. That makes them expensive. And it means we can't do PET scans on a major national scale.
And Medicare and insurance companies, they don't like to pay for it because like I said, it's expensive. The tests cost $12,000 each. This helps explain why there are only 2300 PET scan machines in the US and they're found mostly in big cities. If you live in a rural area like tens of millions of Americans, you've got a problem.
The other test is a spinal tap. Fluid around the spinal cord is extracted with a catheter. It's not dangerous and it hurts, but not nearly as much as people think. But still. Having a spinal tap is not something people tend to look forward to and many therefore refuse to do it. And then let's assume you go through all of that.
Let's assume that you go through the year or two's wait to get to a specialist who then prescribes a spinal tap or a PET scan. And you go through that process and then it's confirmed you get diagnosed. They'll then prescribe Leqembi. That's an intravenous drug. You don't just take a pill, which means you've got to go to a medical facility twice a month to get the injection. That's not a whole lot of fun. These clinics don't have capacity. They're busy treating other patients for other diseases. And that's assuming you qualify at all for the drug because you've got to be in a clinical trial. So the bottom line, Alzheimer's is the weak link.
It's the biggest crisis in our health care system. So you need to have plenty of money by the time you reach age 60, because 1 in 10 at age 60 develop symptoms and by the time you're 80, it's 1 in 3. By the time you're 90, it's 1 in 2. You better get to those ages with plenty of money so that you'll have the money to hire the people. You'll need to provide care and make sure you start right now in developing a very strong relationship within your medical community, because those who have those inroads are more likely to get the treatment they need sooner than others. Hate to say it as a commentary, but this is the state of our medical system today. Be aware of it so that you're prepared for your future.
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