There are currently 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. It is projected that by 2025 more than a million people will have the condition and by 2050 that will increase dramatically to two million. The rapid increase is mainly due to increases in life expectancy and population demographics. At The Good Care Group, we are frequently asked by families is there a cure for dementia. Sadly, despite these staggering numbers, there is no cure for dementia. It is also unlikely that there will be one single cure for dementia. Dementia is the collective term for a variety of different diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies and vascular dementia. Research therefore is focused on finding cures for these diseases. Significant progress has been made over recent years to find a cure for dementia, largely due to more funding availability for research. A cure however is likely to be some years away.
Here we explain what research is currently underway, what advancements have been achieved and how these have helped people living with dementia.
WHY IS THERE NO CURE FOR DEMENTIA?
There are several charities and research institutes currently conducting clinical research trials to find a cure for dementia. However, there are challenges restricting these organisations in finding a cure for dementia:
In 2015 dementia cost the UK over £26 billion a year, however on £74 million was invested in research. Funding availability impacts the number of dementia researchers recruited to work on projects. To provide some context for every dementia researcher, there are five cancer researchers.
High turnover of researchers
70% of dementia PhD students leave within 4 years, many citing the lack of funding and pressure of securing funding the reason for this.
Lack of clinicians in dementia research
Specialist clinicians are not choosing to work in the field of dementia research. Many do not have the time to focus on research with other commitments within the NHS. Short term research contracts, poor research training in medical education and research being undervalued in a clinical setting are some of the other reasons.
Lack of dementia care researchers
Fewer than 2% of researchers in the UK specialise in social work or social care research. The perception is that research in this field is not as highly regarded as other pathways.
DEMENTIA RESEARCH, THERAPIES AND TREATMENTS
Alzheimer’s Research UK is one of the largest charities in the country involved in clinical research trials. Whilst organisations like Alzheimer’s Research UK continue to work on a cure, they are also researching advancing treatments that can better manage symptoms than current medications on the market. Their Drug Discovery Alliance is working on over 20 new treatments for dementia and over a dozen of these are in the final stages of clinical trials.
Dementia and stem cells research
Alzheimer’s Research UK’s stem cell research projects is studying stem cells to gain insights into how damage in the brain starts. Stem cells are cells that develop into different types of cells including nerve or brain cells. Scientists have been taking skin cells from people living with different types of dementia and manipulating them into stem cells and then into brain cells. They have then studied these cells to determine how dementia begins and what will slow its progress. The progress of this project means that these brain cells can be used to test potential treatments at an early stage of decline to understand their effectiveness in slowing further decline.
Immunotherapy is a process that boosts the body’s own immune system to fight off disease. This therapy has been used very successfully in the field of cancer care.
Studies have used immune vaccinations that fight against the abnormal proteins that build in the brain when a person is living with Alzheimer’s disease. Monoclonal antibodies, which are manmade antibodies that are versions of immune system proteins to target abnormal proteins, with a view to slowing the progression of the disease. Not all studies using immunotherapy have been successful, but new research trials are taking place, including the CLARITY study which looks at the therapy’s effectiveness and safety for those with early-stage dementia. Other researchers are studying how microglia brain cells in those living with Alzheimer’s disease become overactive causing damage to the brain. Studies are looking at how to prevent this.
Gene based therapies are focused on reducing the production of proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia.
Development of other medication
Drugs used for other conditions is another way of finding medication to treat dementia symptoms, whilst new medicines take time to develop. The Alzheimer’s Society Drugs Discovery programme is working on treatments for vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s using existing drugs. These include medications used for high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.
LIFESTYLE CHANGES TO PREVENT DEMENTIA
Whilst research organisations and charities work hard to find a cure for dementia, there are many things we can do to help prevent the onset of dementia and reduce the risk of developing the disease.
A healthy lifestyle is one of the strongest factors in reducing the risk of dementia. By reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease, for example stroke or heart attacks we reduce our risk of dementia. These diseases are a risk factor for vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is the one of the most significant lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the risk of dementia. Foods that are high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat can impact. These food types can cause high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
Maintaining optimum weight
If you are overweight or obese it can increase your blood pressure and the risk of getting type 2 diabetes. These are both linked to a higher risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Even if you lose 5-10% of your body weight, you can significantly reduce the risk.
Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Lack of exercise can also affect cognitive ability (problems with thinking and memory). It is recommended that you do at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. Exercises that are suitable for older people include walking, cycling or aerobics. It is important to maintain strength and doing resistance bands or yoga once or twice a week is recommended.
Excessive drinking can cause some cancers, heart disease and can increase the risk of a stroke. Alcohol also damages your nervous system, which affects your brain. It is important to stick to the recommended limits of no more than 14 units a week for men and women.
If you smoke you are at risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
MEDICATIONS FOR DEMENTIA
Whilst there is no cure for dementia, there are drugs that are available to treat the symptoms and reduce their effects on a person living with dementia. Most medicines available are used for Alzheimer’s disease.
These prevent the acetylcholine enzyme in the brain breaking down. This enzyme helps nerve cells communicate with each other. Donepezil, which is commonly referred to as Aricept is the most common inhibitor and is used to treat mild to severe Alzheimer’s disease. Some evidence suggests it is effective for other dementias, including vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. There are however side effects during the first 2 weeks of taking them, including nausea and loss of appetite.
Memantine, also referred to as Namenda can be used for a broader range of dementia’s including vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and mixed dementia. It is commonly used for people who are unable to take inhibitors. It blocks a chemical in the brain called glutamate which contributes to disease. Again, there are temporary side effects including constipation and headaches.
HOW OUR PERSON-CENTERED CARE AT HOME CAN IMPROVE OUTCOMES
All our professional carers are trained to provide person-centred care to a person living with dementia. They use a range of best practice techniques proven to provide reassurance, reduce anxiety and calm behaviours. Our carers truly understand how dementia affects a person and their life. This means the person with dementia can live well, despite the challenges dementia can present with the gentle encouragement and compassionate care provided by our dementia carers. The high-quality care provided by our dementia carers has seen a 66% reduction in the use of antipsychotic medications compared with the average care home.
Specialist dementia care
We understand the effects of dementia in the elderly. Our collaborative approach to working with leading medical experts, academic bodies and leading charities ensure our care is of the very highest standards. Our work with the Contented Dementia Trust to introduce the SPECAL approach to dementia care helps us to understand and discover what is important to the person living with dementia, enabling us to develop a purposeful and meaningful programme of care. All our professional carers are trained in the SPECAL approach to dementia care and our management team complete a higher-level dementia care training programme. It does not stop there. Our care teams receive on-going coaching, mentoring and support based on latest thinking and research that ensure they have the knowledge, skills and aptitude to deliver positive dementia care.
In-house dementia care expertise
Our approach to live in dementia care is developed and lead by our in-house team of clinical experts. Uniquely, we have our very own full-time Admiral Nurse, Dr Jane Pritchard and an occupational therapist, Jackie Cooper who both offer practical and emotional support to our clients and their families at what can be a very difficult time. We adopt a multidisciplinary approach to our dementia care service working alongside healthcare professionals to ensure positive outcomes for all our clients. This means they can stay safely and happily at home with the right support and equipment to get the most out of their life.
Improved outcomes for those living with dementia
Our nurse and OT-led services directed by our full time Consultant Admiral Nurse and experienced Occupational Therapist are transforming outcomes for those living with complex conditions like dementia. Our diligent professional carers ensure our clients experience fewer falls that result in injury than the average care home resident. They are vigilant in spotting early signs of pressures sores, reducing their rate of occurrence far below that typically experienced in hospital. Our leading-edge care for people living with dementia blends the latest training and techniques to produce more moments of calm and connection. This results in a major reduction in the use of antipsychotic drugs compared with the average care home, whilst helping the psychological needs of a person with dementia.
HOW YOU CAN HELP YOU LOVED ONE WITH DEMENTIA
ARRANGING DEMENTIA CARE AT HOME
Once you have decided care at home is right for you and your loved one – we are here to help.
We will conduct a comprehensive assessment of your loved one’s needs. This covers not just their care needs, but how they wish to live their life. The assessment informs the care plan which will be created by an expert care manager, guided by clinical experts. The plan of care guides our professional care team to deliver the highest quality dementia care to your loved one, which includes music therapy if you wish.
Dementia Carers First is a charity that provides support for dementia carers and has a wealth of online resources and information. The NHS has a useful living well with dementia guide that provides practical tips and guidance so people living with dementia can live a fulfilling life.
You can also visit the Carers Trust,Carers First and Carers UK to get more general information and support about being a family carer.
TALK TO US ABOUT DEMENTIA ADVICE AND YOUR CARE NEEDS
Our friendly and experienced team is here to help you and your family make sense of the options available to you. Call us today we will help you every step of the way.