According to leading psychiatrist Barbara Sahakian, (Professor Sahakian has developed her own test which can be done on a laptop in ten minutes and this could be available in doctor’s surgeries within the next couple of years) professor of neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge, everyone over the age of 60 should be offered screening for Alzheimer’s disease at their local doctor’s surgery.
Professor Sahakian says that the NHS and private health services should be making more effort to detect mental disorders earlier and that stigma surrounding mental health has resulted in symptoms of mental health problems being ignored until the patient hits a crisis point. She adds that one of the top challenges is to integrate screening into routine healthcare.
Alzheimer’s Disease currently affects around 465,000 people in the UK and over 35 million people globally. It is a progressive disease which means that the brain continues to deteriorate over a period of time and will ultimately end in death.
At the moment a third of cases aren’t diagnosed and are left untreated and in some areas this could be as high as 74 percent.
“I am shocked some people are allowed to deteriorate so much and then finally someone figures out that they probably have Alzheimer’s disease and takes them to the GP and psychiatrist. By that time the drugs don’t work as effectively. It is tragic” said Professor Sahakian.
Hope on the horizon
Once someone has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, neurological function has already declined and early screening would give patients access to treatment that could help preserve attention and concentration for longer.
Professor Sahakian also said that neuroprotective drugs that could slow down or even stop the progress of Alzheimer’s disease could be available within the next ten years and possibly within five years if side effects aren’t a problem.
“If they don’t have many side-effects, they’ll be available within five years. But if they have to do more work on reducing side-effects, it will be ten years. If there is a neuroprotective agent and it stops the disease process, then presumably you would die of something else, it wouldn’t be Alzheimer’s disease.”
The professor’s comments came at the launch of an international campaign to improve treatment of mental health disorders.
Blood tests are currently being developed around the world that could spot the early signs of the disease. Other tests are able to spot changes in memory that are not linked with normal forgetfulness.
Professor Sahakian has developed her own test which can be done on a laptop in ten minutes and this could be available in doctor’s surgeries within the next couple of years.