KUALA LUMPUR: Health authorities in Asia should diagnose Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients early so that drugs may be given to stabilize symptoms and relatives, or caregivers, can be better prepared, experts said on Friday.
AD is set to explode in Asia in coming decades with a fast-aging population, and dementia patients are forecast to reach 64.6 million by 2050, more than half the global estimate of 115 million in that year.
But diagnosis of this fatal brain-wasting disease that affects memory, thinking, behavior and ability to handle daily activities is almost always made so late that the few drugs that may stabilize symptoms are no longer effective.
"That brain region gets worse and worse linearly. By catching it earlier, it's easier to stop whatever is going on," said Professor Barry Reisberg of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at New York University School of Medicine, who spoke at a regional conference on Alzheimer's disease in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
"There are a lot of ideas to stop progression, exercise for better cardiovascular health, mental (exercise). People need to be aware and make choices," he said later.
He presented a study published in early 2010 in "Alzheimer's & Dementia," where he and his colleagues monitored for 7 years 200 participants who complained of memory lapses, or "subjective cognitive impairment." Ninety went on to develop mild cognitive impairment, the stage before dementia.
"It is possible to detect as early as 22 years before AD symptoms show. This is something scientists can address."
AD not only affects patients but relatives and caregivers tending to the sufferers, who need 24-hour help in advanced stages of the illness. AD, the most common form of dementia, lasts for around 10 years and robs people of their memory and thought processes and eventually, bodily functions.
David Dai, a gerontologist and AD expert in Hong Kong, said: "There are drugs to stabilize symptoms. They are especially useful in early and middle stages so the person can be better managed at home. But it can't stop progression of the disease."
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