Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Experts project that by 2050, nearly 14 million in the US will have Alzheimer's

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Unless medical experts arrive at some sort of breakthrough, the number of people with Alzheimer's in the U.S. will only continue to grow, and is expected to triple by 2050.

That's according to new projections from the American Academy of Neurology, which appeared in the journal Neurology, appropriately.

Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior, usually among the elderly. It gradually worsens over time, and usually first manifests as forgetfulness. Those with the disease's most severe form may cease to understand language, recognize members of their own family or perform basic activities like eating and dressing themselves.

According to current estimates, 5.4 million Americans live with the disease. The latest data from L.A. County's public health department estimated that in 2007, at least 147,000 Angelenos were living with it.

At the time, in South L.A., about 36,000 adults said they were caring for someone with Alzheimer's.

It's the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and is the only one among the top 10 that can't be prevented, cured or slowed. People with Alzheimer's often die prematurely, and the final stage of the disease can last anywhere from several months to several years, during which a patient becomes fully disabled.

Researchers in the Neurology study projected that by 2050, nearly 14 million people in the U.S. would have Alzheimer's, up from 4.7 million just three years ago.The increase has to do with "an aging baby boomer generation," said the study's co-author, Jennifer Weuve, who called it an "epidemic."

"[These] projections emphasize the need to find either prevention or treatment for [Alzheimer's] in order to decrease the burden of future disease on individuals, families, and the medical care system," wrote the study's authors.

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