Every day, more than 1,000 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. These are our mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers and spouses. They are scientists, artists, teachers and policymakers.
As time goes on, even more of us will be affected, because the numbers are rising at a startling rate. Today, one in nine Americans aged 65 or older has the disease. In just one decade, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is expected to reach 7.1 million, a 40 percent increase from today. In our state, the numbers are expected to nearly double.
San Antonio is facing an especially worrisome scenario. Age is the greatest risk factor for the disease. There is a high number of retirees who make their homes in this city and the surrounding region. As a result, we will see higher incidences of Alzheimer’s than many other areas of the country. Compounding the problem is this: Hispanics are one and a half times more likely to have the disease and other forms of dementias. In South Texas, this statistic is significant since 60 percent of our population is Hispanic.
Doctors do what they can to manage the illness with therapies that are available, but there is no known cure for the disease, no way to prevent it, and its progression cannot be stopped or even significantly decreased.
As the region’s academic health science center, it is our duty to do everything we can to tackle and eventually annihilate this terrible disease. To that end, we are working to create South Texas’ first comprehensive institute for Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases. Through this endeavor, we envision offering all medical, dental, allied health and social services for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and their families under one roof, and aligning these interdisciplinary health services with our basic and translational aging research programs. We will address the enormous challenges of Alzheimer’s from every pressure point—physical, emotional and financial.
We have a strong platform on which to build. The nationally recognized experts that make up our Health Science Center faculty have already made significant strides in age-related research, and we have a long tradition of excellence in neurological education and service to patients. You will see many of those accomplishments throughout this issue of Mission, including in our cover story.
We recognize that we do not accomplish these great feats alone. We are fortunate to have garnered the support of such impactful and dedicated friends as the J.M.R. Barker Foundation and The Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, as well as many other contributors who also feel compelled to help us in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
We have much more work to do, and so much more to offer those suffering from this disease. Together, we will persist, committed to discovering better therapies and providing superb care to all our patients.
William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP
President and Professor of Medicine
UT Health Science Center at San Antonio