Spotting Dementia

Dementia is surprisingly visible. In particular, people who have it often recognize that they have it, at least in the early stages—elderly people who have a feeling that their faculties aren’t what they once were, and that this is getting worse, tend to be proven correct in their assessment when given professional screening for Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. The symptoms they are, on some level, noticing are generally poor memory for recent events or an apparent inability to pay attention, poor judgment, decline in organizational skills, disorientation, trouble dealing with abstract issues, and difficulty communicating.

The onset of dementia is a gradual process, but these symptoms, especially en masse, are not often difficult to recognize. What’s hard is being willing to recognize them. There is a fear that dementia means the end of living independently, the end of participating fully in one’s life, the end of enjoyable activities. The majority of dementia cases are due to age, meaning patients have generally been living in the adult world for some time, and the prospect of losing that may be difficult to bear. Current treatments are in fact focused on keeping the patient as independent as possible for as long as possible.

There is a ray of hope, however. A new diagnostic tool makes early detection easier and more accurate, and a biochemical compound has been shown to reverse signs of Alzheimer’s in laboratory animals. The diagnostic technique analyzes data from multiple sources to determine whether a patient has dementia, and what specific type they have. The analysis facilitates the determination of the proper course of treatment—mild cognitive impairment, which is not a form of dementia but can be a precursor to it, may need little more than close monitoring.

As for the possible cure, it is a compound called antisense oligonucleotide. In mouse studies it was shown to erase both physiological symptoms of Alzheimer’s and, as best as can be determined in mice, behavioral indicators. Another study looked at the effects of the compound on specifically human forms of the proteins and genes implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, and found that it was effective. It has yet to be tested on humans directly.

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