For generations, the illness has tormented these and thousands of others among a sprawling group of relatives: the world’s largest family to experience Alzheimer’s disease. Now, the Colombian clan is center stage in a potentially groundbreaking assault on Alzheimer’s, a plan to see if giving treatment before dementia starts can lead to preventing Alzheimer’s altogether.
But preventive research is difficult. Participants should be people guaranteed, or highly likely, to develop dementia, and with common Alzheimer’s identifying such people is challenging because the disease’s cause is unknown. Also, because people would not be sick when treated, potential negative side effects of drugs are especially worrisome.
Since Colombians with Alzheimer’s are young, without many old-age ailments, they have “cleaner brains that can give a better picture” of whether drugs work, Dr. Buckholtz said.
And the extended family’s single location, large size and similar lifestyles provide enough comparable participants for solid scientific data.