i Editor's Letter: Predicting dementia and helping sufferers


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The Independent Online


Would you take a test that predicts  the probability of you developing  Alzheimer’s? British scientists have created a blood test to predict whether people with failing memories will go  on to develop Alzheimer’s within 12 months. It could, reports say, be available in a couple of years for less than £300 – but one in 10 people will get an incorrect result, a pretty big caveat.

The greater psychological obstacle, though, is that there’s still no effective  cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s. In the words of Dr Eric Karran, science director at the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, “Alzheimer’s disease is now the most feared diagnosis.”

Despite all that, I think I might take the test. Not right now – at the moment it’s for people with failing memories (scientists desperately want to recruit  them into trials). I prefer to attribute my cognitive deficiencies to a cluttered  mind and frenzied daily deadlines. But later in life, I would consider it.

There could be benefits to knowing. It would focus your mind on the life you do have. (We shouldn’t need such reminders, but often do.) If the predictions become much longer-term,  people could improve their diet and exercise, with a view to living more healthily, if not bettering their prognosis. It would also allow you to plan ahead to reduce the burden on family.

We cannot rely on medical advances to solve the problem of dementia for us – 800,000 people in the UK are living with the condition, rising to a predicted 1.7 million by 2050.

Making society more dementia friendly can bear dividends, though. Tentative steps have been taken. York is trying to become a ‘dementia friendly’ city, helping disorientated residents and visitors to navigate the streets. Transport police have been trained to deal with confused travellers. Marks & Spencer, Argos, Homebase, Waitrose, Tesco, Lloyds and Nationwide have signed up to become dementia-friendly companies, using greeters at the front of the store and, in the banks’ case, helping with forgotten pin numbers. For the rest of us, a little help and kindness goes a long way (dementiafriends.org.uk).

So would you take the test? In one online survey yesterday, about 75 per cent of respondents answered yes.


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