What you need to know about the early signs of dementia

What you need to know about the early signs of dementia

Dementia is not a normal part of healthy ageing.

All of us will have forgotten at some point where we’ve put the keys or why we’ve walked into the lounge room for the second time in minutes.

Some of us may have even lost our sunglasses a few times (forgetting they’re casually perched on our heads!).

What isn’t a normal part of healthy ageing, according to Dementia Australia, is forgetting what sunglasses are used for in the first place. Or it could be forgetting entire events instead of being a little vague about them sometimes (e.g. “We went on a trip to Spain?” versus “Was it 1992 or ‘93 that we went on that trip to Spain?”).

Warning signs

Often memory problems can be one of the first early signs of dementia that people tend to notice.  Dementia Australia says that other common symptoms can include:

  • Confusion
  • Personality change
  • Apathy and withdrawal
  • Loss of ability to do everyday tasks

The problem is that the early signs of dementia are not the same for everyone.  They can also be quite subtle or develop very gradually.

If you are worried about memory problems or other dementia-like symptoms, it’s worth chatting to your GP about it to find out what could be causing it.  The earlier that dementia is diagnosed, the sooner that treatment can start and the better that future planning will be for the person with dementia and their family.

Dementia treatment

Right now, there is no cure for dementia but there are some medications that can slow its progress. However, these medications are not effective for all people.

Dr Eamonn Eeles, Geriatrician/Physician and Head of Research of Internal Medicine Services at The Prince Charles Hospital, says, “modern drugs can slow down the deterioration process only in around 30 per cent of patients. Most sufferers will only experience the side effects of these treatments, with none of the benefits.”

Research to the rescue

Dr Eeles and his research team are working with the CSIRO and Queensland Brain Institute in a world-first study to map the brain using a newly created isotope to help understand the early signs of dementia.

The study involves testing a new brain imaging technique and imaging tracer that Dr Eeles hopes will help doctors understand brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia) and identify which people fall into the 30% likely to benefit from available treatment.

“Our findings will help us not only develop a simple test to identify Alzheimer’s in its early stages but work out which patients are likely to actually benefit from current treatments.

“This would not only give patients and the people who care for them a better quality of life, for longer, but potentially save billions of dollars in healthcare costs worldwide,” he said.

We have the technology

The technology developed for the study was made by a collaboration between Brisbane researchers and medical imaging designers in Germany. The isotope they created is a radioactive imaging tracer that allows imaging machines to safely read the brain.

Previously, examining the brains of dementia patients could only occur after death. Now the scientists can examine ‘live’ brain scans and search for the differences between healthy brains and those of people who are showing early signs of dementia.

A new hope

The research team, with community funding support from The Common Good, have begun the process of recruiting 50 clinical trial volunteers with early signs of dementia and 10 healthy individuals. They will undergo a range of tests to qualify for the study and then have two scans, with a follow up in 12-18 months to compare the results.

“We will be able to directly measure chemical signals in the memory-forming part of the brain,” says Dr Eeles on the clinical trials.

“This imaging, together with the scans, will give us the best look yet into the workings of the brain, and enable us to better evaluate changes that happen with early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.”

This is a whole new world of research. With early recognition, the chances of slowing or even halting the effects of dementia improve dramatically. Until now, the biggest hurdle has been trying to identify dementia in its earliest stages.

“Any investment into research in dementia would potentially be very important for our generation and the next generation, who may be able to enjoy earlier recognition and diagnosis of dementia.”

Show your support

If you would like to support this ground-breaking dementia research, please visit thecommongood.org.au. Through all of us working together, The Common Good gives precious time to researchers, so they can give more time to us and those we love to live happier, healthier and longer lives.

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