Attacking Alzheimer's

Our probing special report details promising advances in preventing — and possibly treating — this relentless disease

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Phillip Toledano for TIME, Prop Stylist Rae Scarton

Alzheimer's

An Alzheimer's diagnosis is a terrifying sentence: a slow deterioration of the mind that entwines a loss of self and life — a misery for both the sufferer and his or her family. More than half of all Americans now know someone with Alzheimer's; for almost 30% of Americans, that person is a family member. And as Alice Park reports in her probing cover story, the aging of the baby-boomer generation will produce an explosion in the number of patients: by 2050, as many as 13.4 million Americans may be affected. That means skyrocketing health care costs and incalculable burdens on the daughters, sons and spouses who may have to give up jobs, savings, time and energy to care for loved ones.

But the bleak landscape of Alzheimer's is changing. In the past two years, advances in the study of the human genome have opened up new avenues of exploration for Alzheimer's researchers in the realms of prevention and possible treatment. Alice's story sheds light on the recent developments in the field — both the failures and the successes — to show where the science is headed and why there's reason for hope. Accompanying her story are dispatches from the front lines of Alzheimer's: by Patti Davis — whose father, former President Ronald Reagan, succumbed to the disease in 2004 — and by Mary Ann Becklenberg, a retired health care professional who is in the early stages of the disease. And in her back-page essay, TIME executive editor Nancy Gibbs examines the considerable economic and emotional impact of Alzheimer's and other degenerative conditions on caregivers.

Our special report on Alzheimer's is a collaboration with Maria Shriver, whose study The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes On Alzheimer's, produced with the Alzheimer's Association, investigates the disease's epidemic with special attention to the outsize burden it places on women as patients and as caregivers. (Maria's father, politician and activist Sargent Shriver, was diagnosed with the disease in 2003.) Our story incorporates poll data from the report, and Maria will first discuss the report's findings on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour on Oct. 17. The full report will be available as an e-book from Simon & Schuster; visit alz.org or shriverreport.com for details. For full text of The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes On Alzheimer's, visit shriverreport.com

This week, our coverage of Iraq doubles as a joint homecoming. Bobby Ghosh, our deputy international editor and our Baghdad bureau chief for five years, returned to Iraq with a companion: Nate Rawlings, a graduate student at Columbia University who interned with TIME this summer — and is a former U.S. Army captain who served two tours of duty in Iraq beginning in 2006 and 2008. For nine days, Bobby and Nate saw Iraq through each other's eyes, and the story in the magazine goes back and forth between their voices. For both men, the changes were unexpected — and in the main, heartening. "I prepared myself for the tragic feeling that our losses had been in vain," says Nate. But he found the opposite to be true.