If you or a loved one is suffering from early dementia, you are well aware that current research has not yet conclusively identified a cause and medications which prevent or slow the disease are still in trial stages. However, the rate of research has increased dramatically in recent years and some significant breakthroughs have taken place. Such organisations as the Dementia Research Foundation in Australia and the Coalition Against Major Diseases in The United States have worked to increase funding for clinical trials.

Causes

Improved imaging techniques mean that researchers can clearly pinpoint changes taking place in the brain during early dementia. Until recently, most studies of the brain were conducted during an autopsy, giving few hints about the start of the condition. This latest research indicates that Tau proteins are largely responsible for brain degeneration. The possibility of developing drugs which target these Tau tangles gives hope for future treatments.

Prevention

Whilst there are presently no drug treatments to cure dementia, clinical markers can allow for lifestyle changes and medical treatments which prevent or delay the onset of the condition. A number of studies indicate that quality sleep may be the key to keeping brain cells healthy. People who suffer from daytime sleepiness or constant fatigue demonstrate greater brain atrophy than others. If you do not have consistent sleep patterns, see your G.P. to find causes and solutions. There is a good possibility that this is your body’s early warning sign and may prevent a decline into dementia.

Treatments

If you are in the early stages of dementia, the good news is that new drugs to treat symptoms are being developed all the time. These help you to manage the condition and delay deterioration. Cholinergic drugs are the most common medications being used in Australia to treat early dementia behaviours. They work by blocking enzymes which destroy important memory neurotransmitters. These medications are subsidised in Australia for those who have been diagnosed with dementia and show improvement within six months of taking it.

There is now a considerable body of research which indicates that exercise can delay cognitive decline and improve the quality of life for those in the early stages of dementia. Particularly encouraging results have shown improved mental speed, less depression and a reduction in Tau tangles in the brains of participants. Work with your doctor and loved ones to develop an exercise plan which will keep you physically fit and quite possibly improve your mental condition.

Clinical Trials

Australia is at the forefront of research into the prevention, treatment and cure of dementia-related illnesses. Last year, ultrasound technology treatments to break up damaging plaques in the brains of mice gained world-wide attention. Human trials could begin next year.

One way to help you gain a better understanding of your condition and help others in the future is to take part in a clinical trial. Since researchers have gained better tools to study early onset dementia, the number of studies into this condition have increased. Use the tool on the Australian Clinical Trials website to identify suitable trials and also ask your G.P. about possibilities.

Being diagnosed with early onset dementia does not have to mean giving up your independence. Join an organisation such as Alzheimer’s Australia which gives regular research updates and ask your G.P. to keep you informed about new treatments. The amount of research being undertaken guarantees that you will have a better quality of life than in the past.

 

Image credit: "Pa Sharing A Laugh" (cropped) by Josh Janssen. (Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic)




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