DEMENTIA NEWS: Expert says we need to learn more and talk more about dementia.
DEMENTIA NEWS: Expert says we need to learn more and talk more about dementia. FredFroese

Talking dementia, out in the open

DEMENTIA has been a tough conversation subject in the past, but through Dementia Australia and with the help of added government funding, more people are talking more openly about it.

This is a vital step in the battle to combat dementia says DA chief medical advisor, Associate Professor Michael Woodward AM.

These conversations are opening up the broader community's knowledge of dementia - its prevention, management and even possible cures.

Stigma around dementia

It's one of the issues around dementia that needs combatting. Prof Woodward recommends dementia patients can contribute to a positive change in attitude. "We need people with Alzheimer's to say, 'I have Alzheimer's like a half a million other Australians and probably in the next few decades. It's a bugger of a disease. I don't want it, but don't treat me any differently. There is still plenty of me left. I haven't become a crazy person to be shunned just because I am becoming more forgetful'.

"We need to get Alzheimer's out of the closet," Prof Woodward added. "And it needs to be a whole of society approach."

Prevention

In the absence of a cure, being proactive in following good prevention strategies is the next best thing.

"There have been population level intervention studies that we show we can almost certainly reduce the number of people with decline in their cognition and reduce the number of people with dementia," Prof Woodward said.

"The strategies that seem to work are improving physical and mental activities, reducing our dietary indiscretions and keeping our weight under control, and eating a more Mediterranean, better-balance and not too fast-food type diet."

Keep using your brain

He supports dementia patients being encouraged to use their brain and memory, which may slow down the onset of the condition. "We can teach people with dementia to use their brain and to learn new material, and certain memories are not much affected by dementia," Prof Woodward said. "We don't give up on the brain once we become forgetful."

Experimental treatments

There are a number of treatments being used, such as trans-cranial magnetic stimulation and ultrasound. "They are all in the early stages of research," Prof Woodward said.

"We need brand new approaches, but we need to do them in a methodical and scientific way. I don't want to see what happened with cancer 40 years ago where everybody went off to a Pacific island and got some expensive new therapy that just didn't work."

Early stages of Alzheimer's

Prof Woodward recommends that anyone with the likelihood of the early stages of Alzheimer's speak to their GP about taking Souvenaid, a nutritional supplement. Other management strategies he recommends are -

  • Keep your brain active.
  • Get involved in groups and society, creating social interactions.
  • Keep physically active.
  • Eat a good diet.

"If you are doing those things, you are doing the best that you can at the time," Prof Woodward said.

Is there a cure?

There is no cure found for dementia as yet. A lot of money has been spent on working out how to reduce the toxic protein amyloid which researchers believe causes dementia. "We can remove amyloid," Prof Woodward said. "There is a Roche product called Gantenerumab which has been used in high doses in two studies which has been shown to actually remove so much of the amyloid from the brain that people who were previously positive for Amyloid have become negative for it."

He points out however there is more research to be done before the solutions to the symptoms can be addressed. In the meantime, researchers are also studying the other toxic protein tau, looking for more answers.

"There are a number of possible explanations for why this tens billions of dollars hasn't produced a cure," Prof Woodward said. "I certainly haven't given up yet and neither have many of my co-researchers around Australia."


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