Around 15 million people in the United States will have Alzheimer's dementia or mild cognitive impairment by 2060, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The projection is saddening. That number represents more than double the number of current Alzheimer's and mild cognitive impairment cases, which stands at 6 million.
The study was published on Thursday, Dec. 7, in Alzheimer's and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.
As Fortune reports, the researchers' calculation method for predicting the sobering number above may be more precise than current tactics — but more importantly — it could present an opportunity to assess techniques on how to prevent the unfortunate disease.
According to NIH, this is the first time for researchers to attempt to account for numbers of people who might have early signs or other markings possible preclinical Alzheimer's disease, or simply put, people who have increased risks of developing dementia. Using their multi-state model, the researchers were able to factor in the rates of transition. What's more, this model can also estimate the impact or efficiency of prevention methods for future Alzheimer's cases.
The findings show that there's a need to develop preventive measures that could slow the progression of the disease, according to Ron Brookmeyer, the study's lead author and a biostatistics professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
Early Signs Of Alzheimer's
About 47 million people in the United States have some evidence of preclinical Alzheimer's, which means their brain might be experiencing neurodegeneration but they don't have any noticeable symptoms yet, says Brookmeyer.
Not many of them will transition into Alzheimer's dementia, but there must be a way to find out early on whether a person will somehow reach that point, and in turn "develop interventions for them that could slow the progression of the disease, if not stop it all together."
Out of the 15 million Americans projected to have either Alzheimer's dementia or cognitive impairment, 4 million will need intensive level of care similar to that provided by nursing homes, according to the researchers' forecast.
Prevention While There's No Cure
It's a sobering disease, one which makes a person unable to remember memories and sees their cognitive abilities decrease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the country. In the coming decades, both Alzheimer's and cognitive decline cases are expected to increase.
In large part, Alzheimer's continue to plague the society because there's no known cure for the disease itself, only treatments for symptoms.
Since there's no cure, the study aims to find effective prevention measures — stop its progressions before it gets worse.