This report looks into the current research regarding dementia and Alzheimer's disease prevention and offers ideas for possible future solutions.
Prevention of dementia is the ultimate aim of a large, albeit under resourced, international research effort. The success of this effort would have enormous benefits for millions of people and save billions of dollars in health care costs. Conversely, the status quo will see the number of Australians living with dementia soar in coming years. Many more people will experience and seek help for mild cognitive impairment.
There are many different forms of dementia, a syndrome caused by brain disease and characterised by declining cognitive function that impairs daily activities. Dementia can affect memory, language, attention, judgement, planning, behaviour, mood and personality. Mild cognitive impairment does not significantly impair daily activities, but often represents an earlier stage of cognitive decline. There is no cure for the common forms of cognitive decline and dementia, including the most common, Alzheimer’s disease. A cure may only be achieved by prevention, because the diseases that cause dementia begin many years before symptoms become apparent and gradually damage the brain until it can no longer function normally. Intervening early to stop or slow disease progression, before cognitive impairment emerges, offers the best hope of preventing dementia.
Is this achievable? It requires breakthroughs in early detection and intervention. New diagnostic technologies have been developed that can detect the presence of abnormal protein accumulations in the brain that characterise Alzheimer’s disease. The disease can now be detected by brain scans or cerebrospinal fluid tests in the preclinical stage, before any cognitive changes occur.