A friend of a mine spends every single weekend at her younger sister’s house to take care of their mom (and give her sister’s family a break). The mom has Alzheimer’s disease, she must be close to 80, and the family is committed to caring for her as long as they can at home. You have to admire this – and if you’re familiar with the symptoms of the disease, you likely know how hard it can be.
And I bet this scenario isn’t all that uncommon, with a society legitimately worried about Alzheimer’s, access to services and care facilities, no cure on the horizon and drugs that do little to stall its progress. Then there’s the aging boomer demographic that will see cases skyrocket. The estimated 35 million living with dementia globally is expected to double by 2030, with boomers reaching senior years. Are political leaders even aware of the tidal wave that is Alzheimer’s? The answer is yes.
The answer is yes. British Prime Minister David Cameron pledge his government to double funding for dementia research by 2025, making it a global focus much the same as cancer and HIV/Aids.
And research is promising, with a mixed bag of news to spur prevention and work toward a cure. Britain is the first to offer a scan to rule out Alzheimer’s; it identifies one of two proteins that build in the brain during the disease.
Researchers in the United States have developed a blood test that can predict with 90 percent accuracy if someone will develop Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and researchers in Sweden last fall announced they’re developing a laser to cure Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. So there’s hope.
Which brings me to what might be an obvious point – do you really want to know if you’re on the brink of Alzheimer’s? Dementia is frightening. You’re vulnerable. How do you deal with it? How do you tell your family members, when you know that one day you may no longer recognize them? Especially when there’s no cure and little to gain from medication to slow the brain’s deterioration.
Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto, a renowned medical center for neurology, has launched an online memory test, available here at cogniciti.com, created and tested by scientists. Exercises include remembering the location of hidden shapes and matching names to faces, delivering a score at the end of the session.
The purpose of the test is not only to assure people their memory is normal and save a trip to the doctor, but also to provide early detection – key to slowing the progression of dementia. If you score in the problem range, take your results to your doctor.
The benefit of a timely diagnosis can give you a chance to do things to improve your brain health with exercise and proven healthy eating strategies, including plenty of fatty fish and vitamin D.
You can also take steps to prepare for the challenges ahead and find support. Or you may have another type of cognitive impairment that can be treated or even reversed. Early detection, then, could be life-changing in a good way.
Karen Hawthorne is managing editor at Health eTalk and BelMarraHealth.com. Karen has worked for the National Post, Postmedia News, CBC Radio Vancouver, the Edmonton Journal, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and the Cobourg Daily Star, reporting on health news and lifestyle trends for over 15 years.