COMMENTS: Demented

The publicity department of the Alzheimer's Association had a boffo day. All three networks covered its estimate that the disease now afflicts 5m Americans, an increase of 10% since 2000. It is not that the nation is becoming more demented, merely that we are growing older, ABC's in-house physician Timothy Johnson explained to Dan Harris. NBC illustrated the point with these statistics: 2% of Americans between 65 and 74 have the disease yet 42% of those older than 85 are afflicted. Nevertheless, babyboomers account for some half million patients, CBS' Randall Pinkston pointed out, diagnosed early with memory tests, genetic spinal taps and brain scans for plaque build-up.

For background, NBC revived its Trading Places series about eldercare: Robert Bazell noted that fully 70% of patients are cared for by family at home. CBS sent Wyatt Andrews to Capitol Hill to check on the federal government's response: $120bn from Medicare to treat patients; proposed tax credits for home care; and a plan for a 100% increase in medical research funds. Caring for the demented elderly is so expensive that the cost of a successful treatment would be "spending millions to save billions," Andrews argued. ABC's John McKenzie (subscription required) offered scant encouragement on that front: the pharmaceutical industry is making slow progress developing treatments, let along cures, "one of the great disappointments in medicine."


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