$1M grant for Alzheimers research at University of Alberta

An aging baby boomer population is going to create a "tsunami" in terms of the number of people with Alzheimer's disease, says Roger Dixon, U of A professor of psychology and neuroscience.

'All projections are for soaring, gigantic increases in Alzheimer's disease in the coming decades'

As baby boomers age the number of people with Alzheimer's disease is expected to significantly increase, a University of Alberta professor says. (CBC)

The University of Alberta hopes to "kick start" further research into Alzheimer's disease with the help of $1 million in new grants.

The Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories has provided a one-time grant of $500,000 to the university, which was matched by the University Hospital Foundation.

An aging baby boomer population will create "a tsunami — a coming explosion of dementia," said research team lead Roger Dixon, a professor of psychology and neuroscience.

"All projections are for soaring, gigantic increases in Alzheimer's disease in the coming decades," Dixon said Monday.

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1963. The first members of that massive demographic group turned 65, the usual age of retirement, in 2011.

Roger Dixon, psychology and neuroscience professor at the U of A, will lead the research team. (John Ulan/Ulan Photography)

"Hundreds of millions of people will be affected globally" and the total cost of taking care of those people is estimated at $800 billion US, he said. The cost of that in Canada and Alberta is proportional, he said.

Research is needed to find the factors that might be related to the early onset of Alzheimer's disease and target those for prevention, he said.

Research into Alzheimer's has been going on for decades but the disease is much more complex than originally thought.

"At the U of A we have a lot of people who are very good at various aspects of Alzheimer's disease and related dementia but don't have funding sources to bring them together, to work together, but that's what this grant will do," Dixon said.

Some of the grant money will be used to pay for six small research projects, including one that will focus on the part of the brain that has to do with memory research or memory activation — the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is where the early pathogenic signs of Alzheimer's disease show up, Dixon said.

If those studies show promising results they could lead to new, larger grants for more research, he said.

It's very costly to take care of people with the disease, so it's important to find ways to detect it early or to even find a cure, he said.

"The cost for caring for an Alzheimer's patient is at least six times more than the cost of caring for a patient of the same age but who does not have Alzheimer's disease," Dixon said.