Local author turns her focus on Alzheimer's disease

Niki KapsambelisLocal author Niki Kapsambelis collected sobering facts and statistics in the course of writing a book about inherited Alzheimer's disease.  Here are a few of of them:  Every 66 seconds, an American is diagnosed with the dementia disorder. It is the nation’s sixth leading cause of death, and is the only disease in the top 10 with no cure or effective treatment.  And the biggest risk factor for developing it is advancing age.

“After you turn 65, your risk doubles every five years. After age 85, your risk is close to 50 percent,” Kapsambelis noted at a special session on the Alzheimer’s at Brain Day 2017. “Without prevention, we’re looking at 13.8 million Americans, 65 and older, with Alzheimer’s by 2050.” Those figures have just been reinforced and extended by a new National Institute on Aging study, out on Dec. 7, predicting that 15 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s by 2060.

Yet government spending on Alzheimer’s research lags behind spending on other major diseases, Kapsambelis said, despite a recent proposed boost in NIH funds that is expected to bring annual support for Alzheimer’s research above the $1 billion mark for the first time. “In 2015, the U.S. government spent $5.4 billion on cancer research, $1.2 billion on heart disease, and $3 billion on HIV and AIDS,” she said.

Kapsambelis’ reporting shows that Medicare Kapsambelis speaking at Brain Day 2017and Medicaid spent $160 billion last year on care for people with Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for a fifth of Medicare’s budget. The cost is high in part because people can live with the neurodegenerative disease, completely dependent on others, for as long as 20 years after diagnosis. The situation is projected to worsen with an increasingly aged population.  “By 2050, we’re looking at one in three Medicare dollars” spent on care for the elderly with Alzheimer's, Kapsambelis said.  “I call it the medical pandemic of our time.”

The Inheritance: A Family on the Front Lines of the Battle Against Alzheimer’s Disease, Kapsambelis' 2017 book, chronicles the lives of members of an extended family marked by early-onset dementia.  The book covers the family’s strong personal and professional ties to expert Bill Klunk, MD, and their contribution to research at Pitt's Alzheimer Disease Research Center.  Earlier this year, Kapsambelis wrote an extended feature in Pittsburgh Magazine about the work of Klunk and Chet Mathis, PhD, including the history of their collaboration in creating Pittsburgh Compound B, which is used to detect abnormal deposits of amyloid early in the disease.