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New guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

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One of the most concerning aspects of Alzheimer’s disease for those living with the condition, their families and their home care companies is the absence of a definitive cure.

However, scientists across the world are researching potential cures and knowledge about the condition is increasing all the time. Even though a cure has yet to be discovered, the increased knowledge and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are helping to improve best practice in dementia care.

Updated guidelines: the key to better dementia care?

Earlier in April 2011, scientists in the USA updated their guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease: the first significant update for nearly 30 years.

The original guidelines, established in 1984, defined Alzheimer’s as having a single stage, dementia, and diagnosis was based solely on clinical symptoms. The recent update identifies three stages of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis (brain changes, mild cognitive impairment symptoms, and finally an evaluation of the mental decline caused by the condition).

The concept that Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed before memory loss has become apparent is groundbreaking and, hopefully, one step closer to a cure. In the meantime, medical professionals can potentially use the new guidelines to identify individuals in need of dementia care before they show any obvious signs of memory loss: a significant step forward.

Possible cures for Alzheimer’s disease

Potential cures for Alzheimer’s disease fall into three main areas of research:

1) Protein plaques in the brain

At the present time, many of the potential treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s disease are focused on the protein plaques that appear in the brains of individuals with the condition. The idea is to find a treatment that will remove these plaques and in doing so reverse and remove the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.

2) Dietary supplements and complementary therapies

There has also been research into whether dietary supplements and complementary therapies could be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, either alongside or instead of drugs.

An American study undertaken in 2009 by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the VA Bedford Medical Center and Harvard Medical School uncovered evidence that taking vitamin E supplements could postpone or prevent cognitive decline: a finding that could be significant for medical professionals and providers of dementia care.

The study, which observed “a modest slowing of decline in function in those patients taking vitamin E” after three years further suggested that there was an additive effect in patients who took both vitamin E and anti-inflammatory medications, in terms of slowing overall decline. [Source: study investigator Michael R. Flaherty in a 2009 telephone call with Reuters].

These findings could pave the way for new treatments to slow down or even cure Alzheimer’s disease.

3) Drugs and vaccinations

The drugs that are currently used to manage some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are constantly being tested to see if they could be modified in some way to enable them to eradicate the condition altogether.

Stem cell therapies are also being investigated, as is the possibility of a vaccination, which could potentially be issued to elderly people or anyone else considered at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

As well as researching new methods of providing dementia care and potentially curing Alzheimer’s disease, scientists are also conducting systematic reviews of previous research in order to build an evidence base and identify any gaps in knowledge.

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