The Next Plague: Alzheimer’s

In the 1970s and 1980s, a plague called AIDS swept through this country. Like a medieval scourge it was mysterious, incurable, and ruthless as it killed those who were far too young to die.

Now, baby-boomers have reason to fear a new scourge: It won’t cut them down in their youth, but if they dodge heart disease and beat cancer they may find themselves trapped in their bodies, watching their minds dissolve.

Did you know that a woman who is now 65 stands a 20% chance of dying of Alzheimer’s? (See Michael Kinsley’s essay in the New Yorker.)

On Bloomberg View Matthew C. Klein has put together a booklet of “visual data” titled: “How Americans Die.” These stunning interactive graphs will startle you. For instance, were you aware that suicide has recently become the leading cause of violent death in the U.S.?

But it is the pages devoted to Alzheimer’s here  and here that stopped me in my tracks.
I turns out that about 40% of the increase in Medicare spending since 2011 can be attributed to greater spending on Alzheimer’s treatment.(We don’t have reliable data on Alzheimer’s spending before that.) And that number is bound to climb.)

The Boomers will be the second generation to die of dementia, but the first to see it coming. 

These charts are terrifying but important. We need to begin thinking about how to cope with Alzheimer’s. Here, The Mayo Clinic outlines “What is On the Horizon for Alzheimer’s.

I’m not optimistic about a cure anytime in the foreseeable future. But we definitely need to think about how to care for the many who will be suffering from this dreadful disease.
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George W. Bush’s Recent Stent Surgery—Two Perspectives

Last week, when former President George W. Bush underwent stent surgery, the procedure was declared a great success.  What is surprising is that not everyone in the mainstream media applauded.  

From Bloomberg News “Former President George W. Bush’s decision to allow doctors to use a stent to clear a blocked heart artery, performed absent symptoms, is reviving a national debate on the best way to treat early cardiac concerns.

“The discussions have been ongoing since 2007, when the trial known as Courage first found that less costly drug therapy averted heart attacks, hospitalizations and deaths just as well as stents in patients with chest pain. The results were confirmed two years later in a second large trial.

“The debate has centered on both the cost of stenting, which can run as high as $50,000 at some hospitals, and its side effects, which can include excess bleeding, blood clots and, rarely, death. Opponents say the overuse of procedures like stenting for unproven benefit has helped keep U.S. medical care on pace to surpass $3.1 trillion next year, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“’This is really American medicine at its worst,’” said Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio  . . .  ‘It’s one of the reasons we spend so much on health care and we don’t get a lot for it. In this circumstance, the stent doesn’t prolong life, it doesn’t prevent heart attacks and it’s hard to make a patient who has no symptoms feel better’” . . .

“’Stents are lifesaving when patients are in the midst of a heart attack’ added Chet Rihal, an interventional cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota . . . ‘They allow immediate and sustained blood flow that help a patient recover. For those who aren’t suffering a heart attack, the benefits are less clear   . . . While stents may be used in patients with clear chest pain, there’s no evidence that they prevent future heart attacks.’  A review of eight studies published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine also found no differences.

“Two large-scale clinical trials completed within the last seven years have shown that drug therapy works just as well as stents in preventing cardiac complications. (The three major U.S. heart associations changed their guidelines in 2011 in an effort to reduce excess treatment.  )

[This is important. The major U.S. heart associations have absolutely no vested interest in recommending fewer procedures. When they say “Do Less,” everyone should listen–mm. ]

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