The Fight against Dementia Gains Momentum
There are currently 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK alone and this figure is expected to rise to more than 1 million by 2025; unfortunately, dementia is an umbrella term, used to describe a terminal condition that describes a number of different brain conditions that cause loss of function. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and it is reported that 62% of those diagnosed with dementia are affected by Alzheimer’s.
It can be a sad and stressful time for all involved when a loved one is diagnosed, the symptoms can start with some memory loss and confusion, but as the condition progresses unusual behaviours may surface, as well as severe changes in mood.
The global scale of dementia means that 44 million are diagnosed worldwide and at the 2013 G8 summit held in London where leaders committed to developing a cure or treatment by 2025, at this meeting the UK vowed to double its annual funding for research to £132m by the same year. It’s not only the emotional burden that dementia causes, the WHO reported that in 2010 the global cost of dementia amounted to £370 billion.
“The average cost of dementia per person in the UK amounts to around £32,000, most of which goes on care.” Nicola Mews from Hales Health & Social Care explains, “£5.8 billion each year is spent on privately funded care, but unpaid care by family and friends bearing the costs actually amounts to around £11.6 billion”.
While there is current medication that can mask the symptoms that Alzheimer’s presents by slowing the processes that the breakdown the brains neurotransmitters, the last 24 months have seen some incredible breakthroughs in the fight against dementia. There has been studies that have shown some strains on dementia, Familial Alzheimer’s Diseases in particular – a condition where the symptoms present themselves early on, are down to a genetic mutation, leading to abnormal proteins developing in the brain, this research has led to the development of imaging tests specifically designed to locate the presence of protein build up in a functioning brain.
For cases of late-onset Alzheimer’s, another gene has been identified for its crucial role in the diseases development, it has been reported that from the research that those who possess a particular form of the gene, known as APOE E4 is linked to an increased risk of developing the disease. Every small step in the discovery of genes and the roles that they play is a key breakthrough in the understanding in the advances of the disease in the body.
Further ground breaking research carried out by Duke University in North Carolina have potentially uncovered a potential cause of the disease; Dr Carol Colton and the team at Duke focused on the immune system to determine that in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, microglia – cells that are supposed to protect the brain from infection start to consume arginine, a vital protein; decreased levels of arginine in the brain could lead to nerve cells dying, the next piece of positive news is that the drug difluoromethylornithine (DFMO) may be the key to stopping the arginine consumption. The drug is already being tested in cancer trials, and trials for its use in the battle against dementia may also begin this year.
These incredible breakthroughs not only fill in the gaps in our understanding of the disease and the way it progresses in the brain, but also bring with it an enormous amount of hope to families that are suffering through the unsettling emotions that dementia causes.