TODAY | September 04, 2013
>> million americans are living with alzheimer 's and today, encouragingly, a lot of the research across the country is focussing on stopping this disease in it's tracks before symptoms even appear.
>> alzheimer's disease first attacks the areas of the brain that are most highly developed and it eventually effects all of the brain regions .
>> reporter: it's characterized by a build up of proteins in the brains. an excess call plaques and tangles that kill healthy nerve cells. drug researchers targeting the proteins had limited success.
>> we don't really have any truly effective therapy for alzheimer 's but we have started to do the very first prevention trials.
>> all the way up.
>> dr. john morris at washington university st. louis says the new trend is to focus on early intervention. his team is studying over 100 families worldwide with a rare genetic mu tigs that predisposes them to early on set alzheimer 's. some are given meditations preemptively before trouble begins.
>> never before have people that don't have the symptoms of allianz timers disease been given medications.
>> reporter: at the mayo clinic in minnesota another approach. dr. ronald peterson studies individual with mild cognitive impairment. a prealzheimer's condition where people lose some memory but still function. patients undergo numerous tests including brain scans.
>> the primary question we were asking with the study of aging is can we predict who is going to develop alzheimer's disease .
>> he wants to develop a risk prediction tool similar to the one used for heart disease in order to classify those at risk and then determine who is eligible for early intervention drugs.
>> much like we treat hypertension these days with multiple different drugs, at the end of the day in alzheimer's disease we may use a combination of medications to treat the disease process.
>> reporter: but not all trends in alzheimer 's research are focused on medications. scientists at northwestern university are studying a group of healthy 80 and 90 years old with impeccable memory. they're called super agers and researchers believe their brains and life styles may hold important clues to robust aging.
>> how can we use what is going right and try to emulate that or find factors to help solve the alzheimer 's problem.
>> while there is no cure for alzheimer 's, the race is going to be to find drugs that can prevent or slow the disease and i personally think, genetics, life style and weaving those two together will open up all kinds of doors for us.
>> a lot to think about.