Scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems have found evidence that long-term testing starting well before any signs of Alzheimer’s symptoms are evident could be a valuable tool in detecting which people will need intervention with therapeutic drugs that are now in clinical trials. This type of intervention could possibly halt or even reverse cognitive damage while the patient is still symptom-free. The long-term testing would be done in conjunction with brain scans.
In the report, Vassilios Beglopoulo of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems, as well as one of the authors of the study, said of the benefits of this long term testing:
“It is widely acknowledged that earlier intervention is needed to effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease, and better diagnostic tools are needed for that. We believe that our approach could make a significant contribution.”
Richard Morris, MA, D.Phil, FMedSci, CBE, FRS, also of the Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems, presented an important caveat in the University of Edinburgh report:
“We recognize that tests with animals must be interpreted with caution, but the use of these genetic models in conjunction with appropriate testing is pointing at an important dimension of early diagnosis.”
In the U.S. alone, more than five million people now live with dementia, a number that is projected to rise to almost 14 million by 2050. The costs of dementia are estimated to increase from $226 million in 2015 to more than $1 trillion in 2050.
If memory tests taken over the long-term can help doctors pinpoint, prior to symptoms, those who would need medication in order to stop or reverse the disease, this type of testing could be the wave of the future.
The ‘Care or Cure’ question
The news value of this study once again spotlights the ongoing debate in the Alzheimer’s community about where the bulk of Alzheimer’s funding should be directed.
Should what money that is available fund research such as the Edinburgh study, or should it go to help those who live with this disease? In other words, which is more important when there are limited funds, care or cure?
The answer is, of course, involves a balance of the two. Families who care for those with dementia can end up emotionally devastated as well as financially bankrupt. But we can’t, in good conscience, neglect the role of finding a cure, either.
Just as we must work to save our environment for future generations while preserving or finding alternate employment for people in industries that have long endangered that very environment, we need to help people living with dementia while funding research that will stop this disease before more lives are destroyed.
The Alzheimer’s community in general is often put off by reports of progress once they find out that the research is only in the mouse-study phase. However, it is these very mouse studies that may lead to a future without Alzheimer’s.
Caregivers, meanwhile, must also remain vocal about the emotional, physical, and financial costs of caregiving and the vital need for help right now. The need for funding that goes toward respite care, in-home services, and nursing home subsidies to help those currently living with the disease is a raw, immediate need. Funding both research and caregiving as aggressively as possible is the only humane answer.
Take action, right now
What action can you take? Raise funds through Alzheimer’s awareness walks. Pressure your government representatives to support bills that will increase Alzheimer’s funding. Make noise as an advocate. This is how governments learn what is needed. We are beginning to be heard, but so much more needs to be done. Let’s keep up the fight for the good of all generations.
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_Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver having spent over two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a longtime newspaper columnist and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” as well as a contributor to several additional books on caregiving and dementia. Her websites can be accessed at www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelders_and on Facebook,Minding Our Elders.