Five million Americans have Alzheimer's, a scourge of a disease that is hard to diagnose, harder to predict and, so far, unpreventable and incurable. There is no chemotherapy for Alzheimer's. And the drugs that are currently prescribed are more like bandages on a bleeding wound than the powerful cocktails that tame HIV.
The greatest risk factor for the disease is simply getting old — an unsettling thought for the first wave of baby boomers turning 65 this year. One study estimates that between 7,000 and 10,000 baby boomers will hit that milestone every day for the next 19 years.
But there was some heartening news this week: An advisory committee to the FDA unanimously approved the use of a chemical dye that highlights, on imaging scans, the plaque in the brain that is the telltale sign of encroaching Alzheimer's.
This may not seem like really good news. A test reveals that you'll get a disease that steals your memory and, ultimately, leaves you dysfunctional, and there's little you can do except maybe set aside some money for future caregivers. Not to mention the ethical problems: Could you lose your job if the test results become known? Or your health insurance?