TWICE as many people may have Alzheimer’s disease than currently estimated, experts now believe.
In the UK, around 850,000 people have the debilitating condition but most of those are only diagnosed after showing some symptoms.
Getty – Contributor The numbers of people with Alzheimer’s is probably double the current figures
Scientists at The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota believe, however, that many more people are probably living with it without having a formal diagnosis.
They’ve been using brain imaging to give a definite answer as to how many people are affected.
Tests on 2,500 people have shown that double the number of people have tell-tale signs of protein plaques and tangles in the brain – markers of Alzheimer’s disease – even if they’re not experiencing dementia.
Dr Jack Clifford, of the Alexander Family Professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at The Mayo Clinic, told The Telegraph: “The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is all based on clinical assessment.
“It’s just based on the question ‘do you have dementia?'”
Twice the numbers actually have the disease
But, he warned, the presence of the biomarkers that classically define Alzheimer’s disease tends to be about two times higher than the numbers diagnosed in clinics.
“Classically defined Alzheimer’s under-counts people who have the pathology but do not have symptoms.
“A lot more people have the disease but do not have symptoms, just like a lot more people have hypertension than have had a stroke, or a lot more people have diabetes than people who have gone blind.”
Late diagnosis means no cure has been found
Not diagnosing the disease early enough – before symptoms pop up – is one reason that all clinical trials have failed so far and why there’s no cure yet.
Dr Clifford told the paper that he does believe drugs do work but that they’re given too late.
Symptoms of Azheimer’s diseaseWhile there are common symptoms, every person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is unique and will likely experience the disease differently.
But, for most, the earliest sign are problems with memory.
As the disease progresses a person might:
lose common items including keys and glasses around the house
struggle to find the word they are looking for in conversation
forget recent conversations or events
get lost in a familiar place, or while on a familiar journey
forget important anniversaries, birthdays or appointments
Though memory problems are the most common, there are other signs a person may be struggling with dementia.
speech problems – a person may struggle to follow a conversation or find they are often repeating themselves
problems judging distance, navigating stairs or parking the car
difficulties making decisions and solving problems
losing track of the day or date
Once you have memory loss, the brain cells have already been destroyed – and that’s irreversible.
To be effective, they need to be administered before any symptoms kick in.
Another issue is that not everyone who gets enrolled in Alzheimer’s trials has Alzheimer’s disease.
Last month, experts named a new strain of dementia.
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“Late Disease” mimics the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but sufferers don’t have the same biomarkers.
Prof Clifford went on to say that up to 30 per cent of people who are told in clinics that they have Alzheimer’s probably don’t.
The hope is that a blood test will soon be available to pick up Alzheimer’s long before any symptoms show – making it more manageable.
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