Dr. Troy Rohn is a very smart man. He's researching and publishing his findings on one of the greatest mysteries of our time: Alzheimer's. In a small office and lab at Boise State, Rohn is trying to unlock the key to a disease that has reached epidemic proportions. Among the stacks of journals and countless files of research, his office is adorned by dozens of beautiful oil paintings that Rohn said are the product of the "other side" of his brain to counterbalance his intense studies.
You spoke about your work in front of the Idaho Legislature this year.
Yes, I'm very proud to be a part of the Idaho Alzheimer's Planning Group.
But Idaho doesn't have a state plan for Alzheimer's.
Twenty-seven other states have a plan, but no, we don't have one. We need a strategic document to help us plan for our future needs. We got in front of the House Health and Welfare Committee in March to do a full presentation, but we never really spent any serious time in front of the Senate committee. I think we were there for about five minutes for a few questions and answers. It's interesting to note that a good amount of our Legislature is aging. When they spoke to us, many of their questions were personal in nature.
The word "epidemic" has been used to describe Alzheimer's in Idaho.
It's a good word to use.
What are the numbers?
Right now, there are between 26,000 and 32,000 people in Idaho that are diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
That's enough to fill Bronco Stadium.
That's right. We are one of the "hot states" that will see the greatest increase in Alzheimer's.
Why is that?
We have an aging population and a lot of people moving here are about to retire. Right now, there are roughly 5 million Americans with Alzheimer's. That number is expected to triple by the middle of the century.
How about the health-care costs?
It's about $140 billion a year, and it's projected that it will completely bankrupt the health-care system by the middle of the century. If you put someone in an Idaho facility today, it's about $75,000 a year for a semi-private room. If they need moderate to severe care, that figure jumps to $150,000 a year. A lot of people quickly lose all of their savings.
Is there a demographic--racial or sexual profile--of someone who is more apt to get Alzheimer's?
No. The greatest risk factor is age. Women have a slightly higher risk because they live a little longer. You have a 10 percent chance of getting Alzheimer's when you're 65. You have a 50-50 chance when you're 85. Around 1900, the average life expectancy was about 50. Now, the average life for women is about 78 and for men it's about 72.
Is there joy in your work?
Probably the biggest reward I get is when I give lab tours to caregivers and family members and individuals living with Alzheimer's. We talk about the disease and clinical trials. They don't get anything from physicians. You would be amazed at how thankful they are to get the information.
What can you tell me about Cindy Jacklich?
I gave a talk at an Alzheimer's conference and her family was in the audience. Her husband, Tony, approached me and told me about Cindy. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. We agreed to meet and talk. I told them about some clinical trials trying to stop the pathology. Lo and behold, they got Cindy enrolled in a trial study in Salt Lake City. It gave them a lot of hope, structure and purpose.
How is Cindy doing?
We're not supposed to know whether she is on a placebo or an active drug, but through my interaction with her, I believe she has not deteriorated at the same rate, and she is really stabilized. Through that interaction, her family realized the importance of research. They have since held fundraisers and given me and my team over $28,000 for our research. For the last six papers I've published, I've directly acknowledged them for their funding support.
I have to ask you about all of the paintings that cover your office walls.
It's a hobby. It's something that I developed in the last 10 years.
Do you ever show any of these at a gallery? They're quite good.
Oh my no. It balances out the other side of my brain. The science side can overwhelm you with tedium. So this is using an entirely different side of my brain.