By Terry Hood, The News On 6

UNDATED -- Alzheimer's has been compared to a tsunami bearing down on our health care system. 

The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's is growing at an alarming rate and researchers say without a breakthrough, it will only get worse.

Connie and Jeff Cope have spent the last decade watching a vibrant, loving woman slowly slip away. It was not easy for anyone to accept.

"She would recognize occasionally that she had lost certain aspects of her memory, but she fought it all the way, thinking she could overpower the disease," said Jeff Cope, Phyllis' son.

Until finally, there was no more room for denial. Six-years-ago, Phyllis Cope was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She now receives full time care and most days she doesn't know her own son.

"Occasionally she recognizes me. Sometimes I'm her son, sometimes I'm her husband and sometimes she's not quite sure. So it's good when we have those moments of clarity, but most of the time she doesn't know," said Jeff Cope.

It's a heartbreaking story and one that strikes more and more families every year. 

CBS News Correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook has spent the past few months investigating this growing crisis.

"You know, it's stunning, Terry. We're seeing 5 million with Alzheimer's right now. That number is expected to rocket to as many as 16 million by 2050 and there's no cure for this disease," said Dr. Jon LaPook, CBS News Correspondent.

And there's not been much progress in treatment, either.

"In fact, the drugs you take today are the same that you took 25 years ago. So there's been absolutely no progress in the treatment of this disease," said Dr. Jon LaPook.

But Dr. LaPook says researchers are finding a new approach.

"Now what people are doing is saying wait a second, we're getting at this too late. It's like someone has had five heart attacks and we say ‘hey why don't you take a few baby aspirin and Lipitor.' Well, it's too late, same thing with Alzheimer's," said Dr. LaPook.

It's hoped that early diagnosis will improve treatment and at least delay, if not prevent, the onset of Alzheimer's.

There's help for families struggling with this issue. You can contact the local Alzheimer's Association at 481-7741 or visit their web site.