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See Inside June 2010

Alzheimer's: Forestalling the Darkness with New Approaches

Interventions before symptoms appear could be key to slowing or stopping the leading cause of dementia

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In his magical-realist masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez takes the reader to the mythical jungle village of Macondo, where, in one oft-recounted scene, residents suffer from a disease that causes them to lose all memory. The malady erases “the name and notion of things and finally the identity of people.” The symptoms persist until a traveling gypsy turns up with a drink “of a gentle color” that returns them to health.

In a 21st-century parallel to the townspeople of Macondo, a few hundred residents from Medellín, Colombia, and nearby coffee-growing areas may get a chance to assist in the search for something akin to a real-life version of the gypsy’s concoction. Medellín and its environs are home to the world’s largest contingent of individuals with a hereditary form of Alzheimer’s disease. Members of 25 extended families, with 5,000 members, develop early-onset Alzheimer’s, usually before the age of 50, if they harbor an aberrant version of a particular gene.

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