Sometimes Brunilda Espinosa forgot to brush her teeth. So the 76-year-old from Surfside went to her doctor, who diagnosed her with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, potentially a precursor to Alzheimer’s, the disease that took her mother in her 90s.
Espinosa took action. She joined a support group at Mount Sinai’s Wien Center for Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders. And, to stay active, she returned to school.
While 20 percent of people Espinosa’s age have Alzheimer’s, the figure rises with age. Nearly 50 percent in their mid-80s have the disease. In Florida, more than 450,000 people have it. Those with MCI worry and wonder what they can do to delay or prevent the illness. In the near term, says Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist at Miami Jewish Health Systems and author of How We Age, the answer is not much.
In his 15 years as medical director of mental health and clinical research, Agronin says, “Not a single experimental effort has proven effective at making a difference. We may have some agents that slow the process down, but we have not found a cure.”
Nor is one likely in Espinosa’s generation, experts agree. In 2014, the National Institutes of Health will spend about $566 million on Alzheimer’s research, compared with about $5.4 billion on cancer. In Florida, a bill wending its way through the Legislature proposes just $3 million for Alzheimer’s research — even though the state has one of the highest percentages of elderly residents in the country.
“Alzheimer’s research is probably 50 years behind cancer,” Wien Center medical director Dr. Ranjan Duara said.
For a disease called “epidemic” by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, that leaves much of the support in Miami-Dade County to memory centers like the one Agronin oversees and two state-designated memory disorder clinics — the Wien Center and University of Miami’s Memory Disorders Center at the Miller School of Medicine. Read more.
Miami Herald staff photo