Alzheimer’s disease is now the leading cause of death in England and Wales, overtaking heart disease for the first time. With people living longer and the UK having a larger population of older people, Alzheimer’s becomes an increasing health priority. A new drug could provide a significant breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, offering hope for an effective treatment for the first time in more than a decade. Following successful trials, this latest step in Alzheimer’s treatment could hold hope for those currently living with dementia in the UK, most of whom have been diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s.


Drug trial brings better than expected results

The new drug, produced and trialled by pharmaceutical company Merck, was recently put through a small trial to assess its safety. The results of the trial found that it was effective at ‘switching off’ the production of the sticky plaque-causing toxic amyloid proteins which are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.

It is hoped that if the drug can help slow mental decline, it could be the first drug in 10 years to be licensed for Alzheimer’s treatment. Most current treatments are therapeutic which help to improve cognitive symptoms rather than treating the underlying causes of the disease. This treatment could be vital for sufferers and for those who could go on to develop the disease in the future.


Alzheimer’s in the UK

The Office for National Statistics has revealed that Alzheimer’s disease now makes up 11.6% of all recorded deaths. The figures also show that the majority of deaths from dementia were in women (41,283 deaths compared to 20,403 in men last year). It affects nearly 850,000 people in the UK, a figure which looks set to rise in line with an ageing population.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of neurological disease which affects many of the brains functions, most notably memory. At present it is unknown what causes Alzheimer’s, but it is believed that some things can increase your risk of developing the disease including a family history of Alzheimer’s and dementia (it can be genetic in some cases), increasing age as well as certain lifestyle factors related to cardiovascular disease. There are many charities which exist to help those with dementia as well as fund its research, including the Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK.


Signs of Alzheimer’s disease

The most common indicator of Alzheimer’s disease is problems with memory. It can begin with forgetting familiar words, objects of even conversations. Further symptoms include:

  • Getting confused or disorientated in familiar locations
  • Being unable to make decisions
  • Speech and language problems
  • Changes in personality such as become more suspicious, aggressive or more demanding of others.
  • Becoming anxious or suffering from a low mood

Alzheimer’s is more common in those over the age of 65, and is slightly more common in women. There are however cases of early onset Alzheimer’s in people aged 40 to 65, affecting 1 in every 20 sufferers.

As Alzheimer’s is a disease which progresses slowly, diagnosis can take some time as symptoms can take a while to appear. It’s important to see your GP as soon as you notice these symptoms, and to encourage others to seek help if you notice these symptoms in others. Numerous tests will be involved in the diagnosis, followed by a tailored treatment plan. Whilst medication can be used to treat some symptoms, Alzheimer’s is mainly treated using psychological treatments to help support speech and memory. With ongoing trials like those currently undertaken by Merck, there is hope that the effects of Alzheimer’s can be slowed down.

Living a healthier lifestyle is one way to lower the risk of developing dementia, including quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol. Being active and maintaining a healthy weight can also help to boost your mental health too. These actions will also lower your risk of developing heart disease, which can help lower your risk of developing other health problems in later life.


Further information about Alzheimer’s treatment and research

For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, there are many resources online to help you. The NHS Choices website has information about symptoms and Alzheimer’s treatment, whilst you can find out more about the latest developments in Alzheimer’s research via Alzheimer’s Research UK.