A breakthrough everyone would cheer, except for maybe senior living operators
Aug. 7 Editor's Note: A follow-up column, “Actually, it's a breakthrough senior living operators would cheer as well,” has been posted.
Would the end of Alzheimer's disease be a good thing?
For most people, the question is, if you'll pardon the expression, a no-brainer. Who wouldn't be thrilled if we stumbled upon a cure for this memory- and personality-robbing illness?
Well, there may be one group: senior living operators. Not that anyone running such a community would state such heresy in public.
But here's the thing: From a strictly business perspective, Alzheimer's disease has been one of the best things ever to happen to the senior living field. Delivering care and services for people afflicted with this terrible malady has turned out to be a remarkably profitable business opportunity. It has helped create many millionaires and perhaps a billionaire or two.
Whether you want to call it Alzheimer's care, memory care or something more marketing-friendly, this line of work has increased profits in senior living like nothing else.
For proof of this ongoing gold rush, I need only look out my window. The senior living operator next door literally is tearing up a parking lot and adding a memory care wing as I type this sentence. And the only thing that separates this building from thousands of others in the field, frankly, is that they are a bit late to the party.
So what happens if a miracle cure comes along that just might put you out of business?
I guess you could say that, fortunately, the field never has had to deal with that uncomfortable question. Of course, when the misfortune of others is paying the bills, it's probably best to use terms like “fortunately” with caution. To be clear, I am in no way suggesting it's a good thing that five million people have Alzheimer's.
This matter is being raised strictly within the context of how such a development might affect the future of this sector. And from a bottom-line perspective, it's hard to argue that removing one's largest income stream is going to help.
So far, the matter has been moot. In recent decades, multiple attempts to find a pharmaceutical treatment generally have fizzled. But what if there was a promising development on the horizon? Then what?
I bring this up because as it turns out, results from a promising clinical trial were presented last week in Chicago at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference. A new drug by the name of BAN2401 (really rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) achieved a first. It was shown to simultaneously reduce beta amyloid clusters and prevent the formation of new ones.
To be sure, that is a far cry from an inoculation. And we certainly have seen promising early starters fade many times before. But should early trends continue, this actually could be the first medication to successfully attack both the physical brain changes and symptoms that accompany the disease. Might that be the breakthrough that gets us to a cure? It's way too early to tell, but the needle seems to be moving in the right direction.
Should we eradicate Alzheimer's, there's no doubt that many millions of people would benefit. Of course, the outcome might be a bit more mixed for thousands of senior living operators.
They just might become the only group in America to recall a time of rampant Alzheimer's as the good old days.
John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at email@example.com.