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Record numbers of scientists have joined the UK search to find a breakthrough treatment for dementia. So what does this mean for people living with dementia now?

Whilst a cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia may still be a few years off, news this week that the number of dementia researchers in the UK has nearly doubled in recent years, offers real reason to hope.

As public awareness of Alzheimer’s rises, so it seems does the number of white coats in laboratories. The statistics from Alzheimer’s Research UK are certainly encouraging: In 2008 there were 3,209 dementia researchers in the UK. By 2016 the number had risen to 6, 141. This has also had a big impact on the number of dementia-related scientific papers published in the UK, which has risen from 1,614 to an impressive 3,169.

It’s not only the UK that’s investing more time and effort into dementia research. In China, for example, there’s been a huge 207 per cent increase in the number of dementia research papers published between 2009-2013. France and the United States have also risen to the challenge, the number of research papers published in both countries has shot up by 56 per cent and 28 per cent respectively.

This certainly seems to be reflected in the number of dementia stories in newspapers and national media. Almost daily, there’s a study apparently offering a potential breakthrough. This week, for example, we’ve been warned about a commonly prescribed bladder pill (oxybutyin) which could raise your risk of developing dementia within a decade by 54 per cent.  This important piece of research (more than 1.7million UK prescriptions were written for oxybutyin in 2015) was led by Dr Daniel Pucheril in Detriot, USA. Another two US study last week revealed that sudden drops in blood pressure can increase the risk of dementia, but caffeine might protect you from it. Researchers in Tel Aviv issued another warning about obesity increasing the risk of dementia, and researchers at Sheffield University suggested your blood group might also play a part.

Whilst it’s heartening to see so much research being carried out, it’s also important to maintain perspective. For despite all this good work, a lot of it seems to be focused on prevention which, although important, is not much use to you if you already have a diagnosis. A cure for dementia, or a disease modifying treatment, (probably more realistic) has yet to be found.  Meanwhile, the number of people diagnosed with dementia continues to rise…Latest estimates suggest there will be more than one million people living with dementia in the UK by 2025.

However, there is another significant reason for long term optimism. In the 1970’s a war was declared on cancer (the big C) which, decades later, is still having significant effects in developing new treatments. As a result, life expectancy for many cancers has increased and continues to increase. In fact, a report by Macmillan Cancer Support revealed that people diagnosed with cancer today are twice as likely to survive for ten years as they were 40 years ago. And the reasons for this are largely down to improved screening (ie, catching it earlier) and more effective treatments.

The big C and the big D are entirely different diseases with entirely different challenges but they do share a similarity in perception. Forty years ago, cancer was considered the most terrifying disease you could get, and one without a cure. Now dementia is the disease most people dread, and the one without a cure. But things are changing. Slowly. For example, the number of dementia researchers in the UK used to lag behind cancer researchers by six to one. Now it’s four to one. More researchers may still study cancer than dementia but, as awareness (and funding) for dementia increases, the gap is closing and so it seems is the gap in our understanding. And that, perhaps, is the most encouraging sign of all.

What do you think? Are you hopeful about future treatments for dementia? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Get in touch and let us know.