How research into Alzheimer’s and dementia is providing new insights and better diagnostic tools
Dementia is undoubtedly one of the biggest health and care challenges we face in the UK. The Alzheimer’s Society* estimates that by 2021, over a million people in the UK will be living with the condition.
Research is being carried out on a number of fronts, helping the medical community and those involved in the support of people living with dementia have a better understanding of the disease and its care and management.
We’re learning more about the causes
Researchers have identified 21 genes linked to an altered risk of Alzheimer’s, enabling them to study the genetic changes that can be associated with the disease. In other studies, more is now known about the tau and amyloid proteins that are closely identified with dementia, enabling researchers to develop approaches to stop the protein’s abnormal behaviour and keep nerve cells healthier for longer. More work is being undertaken to look at the role played by the immune system in the process of the disease, including research into the effects of existing drugs that target the immune system to see if they offer any benefit.
Stem cell techniques are being used to study Alzheimer’s disease in the laboratory; this will help in screening potential new dementia drug treatments. Scientists have also discovered ten proteins found in the blood that could predict which people with memory problems are most likely to go on to develop Alzheimer’s.
Studies are also being undertaken into the relationship between early life factors such as nutrition in childhood and IQ, and their links to dementia risk later in life. Elsewhere, a drug called Liraglutide initially developed for the treatment of diabetes is showing potential in treating Alzheimer’s. Another medication, LMTX, has been shown to improve brain injury recovery in early clinical trials.
Tests to aid diagnosis
Great strides have been made in developing new memory tests to aid in diagnosis. One example is the TYM test which has proved to be accurate and valid; it’s now being compared with other memory and thinking tests to investigate its potential for wider use.
Recent news suggest that a simple eye test carried out by opticians could help predict those at risk from developing dementia. The test involves looking at tissue in the retina. Scientists have found that people with thinner retinas are more likely to have problems with memory and reasoning. Further studies will look at the connection between thinner retinas to see if it translates into an increased risk of dementia.
Providing care and support
Whilst research into a potential cure is very important, the Alzheimer’s Society is equally focused on ensuring that people living with dementia receive the best quality of care. This includes much-needed support after diagnosis, help in improving quality of life, and specialist care in advanced dementia.
*We’re proudly supporting the Alzheimer’s Society as our charity of the year for 2018-19.