Ten percent of Americans over 65 years of age (5.1 million individuals) suffer from Alzheimer’s disease (AD). By 2050, aging baby boomers will cause that number to reach 16 million. These statistics are staggering and highlight the need for immediate and significant progress towards a cure. AD first presents with forgetfulness, but it soon develops into a more severe and debilitating disorder including confusion, personality changes, anxiousness, irritability, and severe memory and intellectual disturbances. Eventually, patients no longer function normally. The average Alzheimer’s patient dies about 8 to 12 years after the initial diagnosis. It is particularly difficult for family and friends to watch helplessly as the patient loses all sense of identity and their place in the world.

AD symptoms develop because brain cells (neurons) are decimated. Why are neurons dying? Part of the answer lies in brain changes observed in Alzheimer’s patients, including the characteristic “plaques” and “tangles.” Plaques are dense and toxic clumps of proteins that collect around neurons. Tangles occur when fibers inside neurons become twisted, also causing neurons to die. Precisely why plaques and tangles develop or why some individuals, but not others, are predisposed to AD are largely unanswered questions. There are no cures for AD. Nor have scientists been able to slow disease progression.

Clock drawing test.

The patient is asked to draw clock displaying the time 2:45. This simple test has been shown to be more sensitive of early Alzheimer’s dementia than several other screening tools and can be scored according to standard protocols.