For those who live with it, dementia can be devastating. But year by year, new drugs, technologies and techniques are being developed that not only reduce the likelihood of the condition occurring in the first place, but are also more effective in helping manage it if it does. This means that in terms of alleviating symptoms and slowing the progress of different types of dementia, doctors now have more treatment options than was thought possible, even just a few years ago.
These developments can involve looking at new ways to use existing drugs. For example, an American study has shown that beta-blockers, which are traditionally used to treat high blood pressure, may also be effective in lessening the onset of dementia. At the moment, because of the small size of the research sample, beta-blockers, can not as yet be prescribed for this purpose. However, a much larger study involving another type of blood pressure reducing drug, known as angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB), has been shown to have a similar benefits, which could lead to new range of medications becoming available.
Several other promoting treatments are also in the late phases of testing. These include a drug that blocks the build-up of amyloid (the lumps of protein that can stop neurons in the brain from working properly together), while another is aimed at preventing the clumping of tau protein, a primary indicator of Alzheimer's. Initial results suggest that both could be effective lines of research.
While at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after 15 years of work, scientists have created 'Souvenaid'. This is a once-a-day drink that they have developed to repair the damage done to neurons at the synapses, the point where they connect with each other in our brains. Tests have shown that Souvenaid does seem to help improve the memory of dementia sufferers.
Correct diagnosis of the exact nature and type of the dementia is of course important in the early stages of the disease if the best treatments are given. In the past this could often involve some form of invasive treatment such as lumbar puncture. But now, American researchers have found that MRI scans can be used effectively in diagnosis, which means much less trauma for patients.
For younger sufferers in particular, being diagnosed with dementia can lead to the loss of employment and their independence. So in Hull, a two-year long pilot project is underway that will give those suffering from dementia the opportunity, with the support of a personal mentor, to do voluntary work in their own community. This positive and forward-thinking scheme will help demonstrate that those suffering from Alzheimer's and similar diseases are still able to make a contribution to society.
With other on-going trials of medications normally used in the treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as statins and even some antibiotics, there are definite signs that the light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to shine brighter for those suffering from the debilitating effects of dementia.
If you or someone you love is experiencing early signs of dementia, find out about the specialist dementia care options available to you.