Alzheimer’s patients are being encouraged to take part in medical trials, as it not only helps to advance science, but could aid their wellbeing too. People who agree to try out drugs that have not yet been brought to market can see their symptoms reduced and ability to live independently prolonged.
John O'Brien, professor of old age psychiatry at the University of Cambridge and chair of the Alzheimer's Research UK clinical trials advisory board, told the Daily Mail: “There are more than 150 trials into dementia ongoing in Britain today and there are huge benefits to the patients of taking part in them, being among the first in the world to have access to new treatments.”
He went on to assuage the fears of those who are put off being a so-called guinea pig, stating that trials are both regulated and closely monitored. A lot of work goes into the development of new treatment types before they reach the trial stage, meaning that the safety of medication is already established before patients become involved.
Clive Ballard, professor of age-related diseases at the University of Exeter, corroborated the advantageous nature of being involved in Alzheimer’s trials. He said: “Patients who are enrolled in a clinical trial are likely to have a better outcome, because they are closely monitored.”
It’s now easier than ever for those suffering from the disease to put themselves forward, as the NHS National Institute for Health Research has responded to demand. It has launched a resource called Join Dementia Research, which enables patients to volunteer for clinical trials.
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia in the UK and affects around 62 of diagnosed patients. It’s a growing problem and dementia is experienced by around 70 per cent of those living in care homes across the country.
The neurodegenerative disease occurs as a result of abnormal proteins in the brain causing a build-up. These, in turn, lead to nerve cells dying and disrupting the transmitters that would usually carry messages around the brain and as a result, this vital organ starts to shrink.
Functions, including memory, orientation and reasoning all start to decline as the brain cells die. As the progress of Alzheimer’s is generally gradual, it can be easy to miss the signs if you visit an elderly person regularly.
Spotting early warning signs, such as a loss of short-term memory, disorientation and mood swings, can help a patient to get help before it has become advanced. While there is currently no cure for dementia, catching it early offers a better chance of slowing it down. Reversing symptoms once they have already become well-established is considered a much more difficult thing to accomplish.
Most people who are found to have Alzheimer’s live for between five and seven years after it has been diagnosed, although some people can continue for up to 15 years. Tackling the deteriorating quality of life is a big challenge, however, and something that scientists are focusing on to try and overcome.