IT is a fear that afflicts us all, commonly voiced as “I don’t want to lose my marbles”. Yet with an ageing population, the number of individuals living with dementia is rising.

Around a million in the UK have a diagnosis, with over 50 million affected worldwide. These figures are estimated to triple by the year 2050.

The onset of dementia is variable, from a state of normal cognition, through the phase of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), to dementia, a disease which literally robs persons of their identity, memory and often the ability to comprehend and carry out the most basic of tasks.

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The stage between MCI and full-blown disease is not set in stone, the good news being that some individuals will not progress beyond this stage.

Though many bemoan the lack of progress in the field, (it is commonly cited that there have been no real breakthroughs in dementia care in the last 20 years) development of techniques in diagnosis and treatment is rarely if ever linear, and sometimes a lag period is followed by an explosion of understanding that may result in rapid strides forward.

Such has been the case with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The workup of any memory condition usually includes a brain scan, either MRI or CT, which looks for classic appearances of disease, as well as signs of any other conditions which may be causing symptoms. The phase of MCI is often a difficult time, with many individuals naturally reluctant to come forward. However functional MRI (fMRI) has been shown in a small study to be able to pick out the subtle changes of this “pre-Alzheimer’s” with almost one hundred percent accuracy. Early diagnosis is beneficial in AD, so if this becomes mainstream, many may be helped in the first stages of the disease.

Preventing the build up of amyloid plaques or removing them from the brain will hopefully be one of the ways of preventing, halting or potentially reversing any cognitive decline. The American Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved the medicine aducanumab, a monoclonal antibody, which mimics the body’s natural antibodies, part of the immune system. Although further studies are needed, any drug that can remove amyloid plaques shows promise.

The risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and indeed any dementia is increased in those with cardiovascular disease and prevention is better than cure.