More than a third of Brits would want to know they were heading for Alzheimer’s 15 years before symptoms appeared, despite there currently being no cure for the disease. This is one of the findings of the Detecting and Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease report, which has been commissioned by Alzheimer’s Research UK.
It investigates the public’s attitudes towards finding out about the disease early and how it would affect their lives. Among the report’s recommendations are better communication around the subject of dementia, increased support for research into early detection, and an NHS that is better prepared for treatments as they arrive in future.
While it could be argued that being in the dark about a future diagnosis is better until an effective treatment is found, this is apparently not the case for most people. Some 74 per cent told the study they would want to know they had the disease prior to the onset of symptoms.
Going into more detail, 38 per cent said they would want to be aware of the situation 15 years before their cognitive power started to decline. A further 33 per cent claimed that two years ahead of time would be enough to help prepare them for what’s to come.
At present, doctors only start to be aware that an individual has Alzheimer’s when symptoms including memory loss become apparent. It is often an elderly person’s relatives who notice a change and encourage them to get tested.
By this point, the condition may have been damaging the brain for years or even decades and the symptoms are reversible. Early treatment is thought to slow Alzheimer’s progression, but it only delays the eventual outcome.
New diagnostic tools still in the development stage could revolutionise the way the disease is treated. They may take the form of blood tests, although different teams across the globe are working on varying approaches.
The new survey asked 2,016 people what practical steps they would be prepared to take in order to identify their Alzheimer’s risk. Some 75 per cent said they’d be willing to have cognitive, blood and eye tests, as well as brain imaging if it offered early diagnosis.
One of the main things that came to light from the study was a lack of public understanding about Alzheimer’s. Some 51 per cent of UK adults didn’t know or disagreed with the statement: Alzheimer’s begins decades before symptoms emerge.
Professor Jonathan Schott, chief medical officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told Charity Today: “For many people, dementia, which is most commonly caused by Alzheimer’s disease, is the most feared health condition. This can make it hard to start an important conversation about why we might want to start diagnosing Alzheimer’s early.
“But this challenge is one we must overcome. Research suggests that our best shot at bringing about life-changing treatments and transforming the outlook for people with dementia may start by picking up diseases like Alzheimer’s very early, and perhaps even before symptoms start. These efforts are particularly timely in light of recent preliminary but encouraging results from clinical trials of new treatments in people with early-stage Alzheimer’s.
“It’s vital that we begin discussions with the public about why and how we can start to make an earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. This report suggests that the public is ready for this discussion – and that clinicians have a vital role to play.”