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The value of knowing: Australia’s growing demand for early detection of Alzheimer’s

September 30, 2014
In Australia more than 332,000 families are caring for loved ones whose memories, and capacity to live independently, are fading. The result of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, these are conditions that impact generations.
Genetic factors mean that many of the 1.2 million people caring for elderly relatives with dementia face a very real risk that they too will succumb to the same neurological disorders as they age.

“In 20 years’ time the number of people over 65 is set to double, and because dementia is predominantly a disease associated with aging we are also going to see a massive increase in the number of people living with the disease unless we find ways to slow its progress,” says Tim O’Meara, Regional Research Manager ANZ, GE Healthcare.

 

The Value of Knowing

There’s currently no cure, but lifestyle changes can slow the onset of dementia. For this reason, the vast majority of carers and others in the community would prefer to have access to an early diagnosis of the condition.

This desire for early diagnosis is the principal finding from a recent global survey of 10,000 adults across 10 countries that explored perspectives on incurable neurological disorders.

GE Healthcare research shows that 3 out of 4 people would want to know if they have a neurological disorder, even if there was no cure. An equally high 81 percent of people would want to know if a loved one has an incurable neurological disorder.

The findings coincide with a societal shift in Australia as the nation’s population ages. Accordingly, the number of neurological disorders in the community is set to increase dramatically.

 

Early detection

One way the medical and research community is tackling that problem is with a radiopharmaceutical called Vizamyl. Although it’s not yet approved in Australia, doctors in the United States and Europe are using it to detect early signs of Alzheimer's and dementia when used in conjunction with PET brain imaging.

“Detecting the disease early is really the first pass when it comes to conducting further research in this area,” says O’Meara. “In the shorter term, if early detection is the stimulus for lifestyle changes then it’s probably one of the most effective measures we can take.”

Research carried out by O’Meara, and others in this field, suggests that individuals who remain physically and mentally active as they age are able to delay onset and slow the progress of dementia.

“We all have something called cognitive reserve, which relates to how mentally agile people are as they age,” says O’Meara. “The idea is that if you engaged with the community and are physically active, then you’re likely to be able to compensate for symptoms of the disease more easily than somebody who’s not so mentally agile, and not so engaged.”

Alzheimer's Australia is conducting a number of campaigns aimed at reducing the occurrence and postponing the onset of dementia including its “Five Simple Steps” program, and a 21 Day Challenge.

According to O’Meara, such programs help prevent and postpone the onset of dementia. An added benefit is that they protect people from a number of other illnesses associated with aging.

“If we can get at risk individuals to change their diet and lifestyle early on, not only do we decrease the rate at which dementia will develop, we also lessen the impact of other diseases associated with aging,” O’Meara says. “The message needs to be on staying healthy and active as we age, because really prevention is the only cure we have.”

Read GE Healthcare’s full global study, The Value of Knowing, by clicking here.
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