At least 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society (2015). Of these, around 40,000 are younger people. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, characterised by a build-up of toxic proteins in the brain. Currently there are no drugs available to treat it, although these could become available as early as next year. However, research funded by the Alzheimer’s Society and various other studies suggest giving people brain exercises can help to prevent the onset of the disease.
The problem at this time is being able to test conclusively for the disease in time to be able to make a difference. Although Alzheimer’s can affect people at any age, the majority of sufferers are elderly – and the early symptoms of the disease are the same as those typically in older people. Confusion, memory loss and cognitive decline could just as easily be the symptoms of old age as they could be the symptoms of dementia.
At present, the two tests for Alzheimer’s that offer the highest degree of accuracy are expensive and complex. The first test, a lumbar puncture, costs £700 and involves measuring concentrations of the two proteins associated with the disease in a person’s cerebrospinal fluid. Abnormal levels of b amyloid protein and t protein tell doctors with a reasonable degree of accuracy that Alzheimer’s is likely. The second test is a brain scan, costing around £1,500. Both are carried out by the NHS at a hospital.
The new test has been developed by Cytox, an Oxford-based biotechnology company, who says that the procedure is quick, reliable and straightforward – making it suitable for the GP’s surgery. The test, which analyses a patient’s genes, could potentially be used for everyone from the age of 60, helping doctors to catch the disease while it is still possible to delay its progression. Once drugs do become available, the benefits of early detection will be even greater.
The new test is also expected to be significantly cheaper than the current choices – costing a few hundred pounds. It works by analysing a person’s DNA for 130,000 genetic variants that are associated with Alzheimer’s, and building a risk profile up for each patient. The test is more than 80 percent accurate at being able to predict dangerous levels of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.
Cytox plan to offer the test to drug companies who are looking for high risk patient volunteers for their tests. With so many clinical trials for Alzheimer’s drugs, there are simply not enough participants available to meet demand. However, since the accuracy of the test is not 100%, it is perhaps understandable why volunteers would be reluctant to take part – a false positive could lead to unnecessary anxiety and difficulties obtaining insurance.
Dementia can affect anyone, at any time. The 2015 World Alzheimer Report states that “…Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds.” Contrary to popular belief, dementia does not only affect older people. Around 5 per cent of those with dementia (approximately 42,000 in the UK) are under the age of 65.
Strokes or brain injury as a result of an accident can also affect us at any age, leaving us unable to manage our own affairs. Having a Lasting Power of Attorney in place ensures that should you lose mental capacity, a person that you choose and trust can make decisions regarding your health, welfare, property and affairs. Without this document, an application would need to be made to the Court for a Deputyship Order and this might be made by a different person from the one you would have chosen. Obtaining a Deputyship Order is a long and expensive process.
- ‘Can this brain exercise put off dementia?’ The Wall Street Journal
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