New Dementia Drug May Help Prevent Disease

UNITED STATES  --  As important as it is to cure dementia-related diseases, the next best thing may be stopping it before it even shows up.

NBC's Marco Villarreal learned how dementia could be less of a threat for future generations.

Nancy and Ronald Sweet have not walked, but instead danced down the road of life for 17 years. Ballroom dancing has kept their hearts beating at the same pace. But these days, Nancy's mind is having trouble keeping step.

"Nancy developed Alzheimer's and was diagnosed officially almost 6 years ago."

The Sweets are dealing with a disease that has become an epidemic in America.

"And it's getting bigger and bigger. As the Baby Boomer generation is aging, the number of people with dementia in this country is going to quadruple by 2050," said Dr. Amanda Smith, medical director at the USF Byrd Institute.

Dementia is an umbrella term to explain the change in function and memory loss.

"There are lots of things that can cause dementia. Alzheimer's is by far the most common. A lot of our focus here and internationally is on Alzheimer's disease because it's a specific pathology that we think we know," said Smith.

But there is progress in preventing the buildup of amyloid--a protein in the brain thought to cause dementia.

"Several of the drugs that are in development now target amyloid and either stop it from forming or remove it from the brain."

There are also tests that scan early on for amyloid build-up in the brain, but it's expensive--as much as $4,000--and insurance companies don't cover it. However, that could change for future generations.

Smith said, "Ultimately we hope that it will be no different than getting a colonoscopy or a mammogram."

The Sweets are grateful for any science or medicine that will give them one more dance together.

There is currently no specific test to determine if someone has dementia. Most diagnoses are based on doctors studying their patients' histories, following a physical examination, laboratory tests, and changes in memory retention.