Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Alzheimers must be given same priority as cancer

The news that four genes have now been identified that could lead to a treatment being found for Alzheimers will offer hope to thousands of people.
It is hoped that early identification of these genes could lead to a diagnosis being found to address the condition.
Dementia is a growing problem in the UK with 700,000 diagnosed with some form, the most prominent of which is Alzheimers. This figure is predicted to rise to 940,000 by 2015 and 1.7 million by 2051.
There has been a growing debate over the subject of dementia with the increasing numbers of sufferers. In our celebrity led world ofcourse, this has meant the likes of TV presenter Fiona Phillips and Cliff Richard revealing how they have been effected.
Ms Phillips did make a moving documentary about the deterioration of her father and the problems this brought for the family. It also brought out some of the inconsistencies over treatment. One doctor notably pointed out how if someone comes in with cancer they are not told to go away and come back when it gets worse. This is the approach of many to Alzheimers.
My own Dad suffered with Alzheimer’s for the last few years of his life. This was painful for the whole family to endure, seeing a man who had always been full of zest for life gradually deteriorate.
In the early stages it could all be taken as a joke as we set off after one Christmas from London heading for the south coast – a journey he had done hundreds of times before, only to finish up in Maidstone. It should have been clear then something was seriously wrong. Later, the positive drives to achieve things in life could also become negatives resulting in an aggression that was difficult for my mother to cope with.
The question why certain people get Alzheimer’s can become an all encompassing one for the family of sufferers. In my own and brothers’ case the worry is that it may be hereditary. Dad’s mother had Alzheimer’s before him and his sister developed early Alzheimer’s just before she died three weeks after him last year.
The thought though does regularly occur as to whether you will get Alzheimer’s. Forgetting things takes on a more sinister meaning for those with the condition in the family. When that forgetfulness can be traced back to something similar that a relative with Alzheimer’s used to do then it takes on an even greater resonance. In my case for example forgetting whether I have locked the house up and turned all the appliances off. This was a regular lapse in the early days with Dad.
This all no doubt is reading far too much into what are probably in the main purely the signs of ageing and general tiredness.
As a potential dementia sufferer there are the preventative measures that can be adopted. These though seem to vary. Stay mentally active, stimulate the brain. Other suggestions are that it is those who live an overly stressed life who are most at risk, so relax. Don’t smoke, eat vegetables and get exercise – the standard recipe for long and healthy lives - are suggested as ways to avoid Alzheimer’s.
The area is something of a maze of confusion. The other approach is the fatalistic one, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. A few moves to try and make sure it doesn’t though always seem like a good idea. A bit of an insurance policy.
Mentioning insurance brings the argument back to the latest genetic breakthrough. Some commentators have pointed out that being able to identify potential Alzheimer sufferers in advance could be used by insurance companies to refuse future cover. This is no doubt a potential downside of such developments. However, it must be hoped that this will not prove to be the case. The hope must be that the latest breakthrough will lead to further developments in how the condition can be treated. Better care options and drug treatments. The key though to such developments will be funding of further research into Alzheimer’s. This disease has moved up in the public consciousness due to media coverage and the growing number of people affected, however the pressure needs to be kept up. Only when dementia is given the same sort of priority in medical terms as cancer can the condition really be said to be being taken seriously. If this condition does gain that sort of priority then a solution can be found to so much suffering.

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, Alzheimer's is never going to be as "sexy" as a Cancer, and therefore there is unlikely to be the same effort to find a cure.
    People are all too willing to park Granny or Grandad in a care home, drive off smoking and hope for a cure for their forthcoming lung cancer.
    Twenty years ago, when my Grandmother was in a nursing home, the staff estimated that only two or three out of thirty patients received visitors once a week (my Gran included), perhaps a dozen saw family at Christmas and birthdays (often the family's birthdays, no doubt hoping for a gift) and the balance, about half, never saw any family at all. Of course, some might have had no nearby family, but the staff knew from contact details (they always wanted to know when their beloved passed away) that a fair number of families were local.