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With no cure and little funding for one, memory centers focus on Alzheimer's early symptoms

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.  M16b1.St.56

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

Comments

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Jayden Eden

I wish that there was more funding to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. I have seen the symptoms of it in person. My grandma developed along the course of a couple years. It is sad when a mother can't remember her own son's name. I hope they find a way to stop it soon.
Jayden Eden | http://www.primehc.com/

Patricia Borns

Jayden, I shared your feeling while researching the story. The good news is that researchers are beginning to accomplish exciting things despite the minimal funding. The REST study is especially hopeful. There's also much more that can be done with symptom control today than at any time, and more being developed all the time. I wish you and your grandma the best with this challenge.

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