HEALTH services for people at a high risk of dementia need overhauled to focus on early diagnosis and treatment, experts have said.
Prominent researchers from across the UK have teamed up on a report highlighting the need for healthcare to keep pace with the latest scientific understanding of dementia.
Their report focuses on evidence that Alzheimer’s disease has its roots in brain changes in middle age which gives a window for treatment with drugs which could limit brain damage before the development of dementia.
The search is on to develop these disease-modifying drugs, seen as the best hope for preventing dementia, but the report warns the new treatments will pose huge challenges to how the disease is managed in the UK and elsewhere, requiring more detailed assessments and tests not normally available.
Experts say identifying those most likely to benefit from early intervention will require gathering specialist information such as genetics and brain scan imaging, which current services cannot deliver on the required scale.
Professor Craig Ritchie from the Centre of Dementia Prevention at the University of Edinburgh is one of the leaders of the group of Alzheimer’s disease researchers and clinicians which produced the report, known as the Edinburgh Consensus.
He said: “Brain changes that lead to dementia begin decades before symptoms.
“Experiences at all stages of life can influence the likelihood of developing dementia and it is never too early to think about reducing your risk. What we have to ensure is that clinical services keep step with scientific advances to make sure the public and patients benefit.”
Report co-author, Matthew Norton, Director of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK added: “Advances in science being made today could transform the way we treat people with dementia, and this report underlines an urgent need to ready our health services for that day.
“The clinical experts, researchers and charities involved in this Consensus agree that we cannot wait to do this vital planning in the NHS.”
The Edinburgh Consensus was written by UK university researchers alongside the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Association of British Neurologists and Alzheimer’s charities.