Dementia is becoming a widespread disease

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Dementia is becoming a new widespread disease.
(20.09.2010) Dementia is on the way to widespread disease. Experts warn that the number of people with dementia will double by 2050. A societal challenge that not only the health system seems to be hardly able to cope with.

Around 35 million people worldwide suffer from the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's, in Germany there are just under 1.2 million. In the case of the incurable disease, protein deposits in the brain disrupt the transmission of stimuli between the brain cells, causing them to die and affecting the memory of those affected. Often the patient's personality changes fundamentally. The symptoms of most dementia diseases are similar: weakness in concentration, loss of orientation over time and space, passivity, helplessness and, if the disease is severe, 24-hour care is required. Learned knowledge is lost and even one's own biography is increasingly forgotten. Changes or innovations often overwhelm the patient rigorously, so that they sometimes react aggressively.

According to various scientists such as the Cologne neurologist Prof. Gereon Fink, the number of dementias worldwide will not only double but more than triple in the next forty years - from currently 35 million to 115 million in 2050. "Unfortunately, our society (... ) not well equipped for the enormous extent and the growing dimension of the problem, ”explained the neurologist Prof. Fink, since medicine and nursing in Germany still have considerable deficits in the treatment of dementia patients. According to Prof. Fink, studying medicine is "still a lot of trouble." Doctors and staff would have to be trained more in order to achieve early diagnosis and optimal treatment. For example, if diagnosed early enough, they could remain suitable for everyday use for up to three years longer before dementia becomes too severe.

Regarding the training of the specialist staff, the Cologne neurologist also criticizes the fact that there are only six among the medical faculties (...) nationwide with a chair for geriatrics, the teaching of aging. According to him, more facilities, such as the Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases founded in Bonn in 2009, would be necessary that deal explicitly with dementia research. This is particularly urgent, as the number of sufferers will grow rapidly in the coming years in the course of demographic change. With the funding of around 90 percent of the Bonn facility by the Federal Ministry of Research, it is also a sign that “the Federal Government is gradually recognizing the extent of the problem,” emphasized Prof. Fink. So far, however, neither politicians nor society are prepared for the dementia problem.

While around 60 percent of people with dementia have been cared for by their relatives at home so far, experts believe that care facilities will have to make a greater contribution to the care of millions of patients in the future. Because relatives can hardly withstand the strain in the long term, explained Sabine Jansen of the German Alzheimer Society (DalzG). Caring for those affected "is so exhausting for the relatives that they often get sick themselves" emphasized Jansen. So far, nursing homes have not been an alternative for many relatives, since they expect staff who are familiar with the clinical picture, but according to the DAlzG spokeswoman, this is "often not the case with regard to training".

Dementia has not yet been curable and prevention is the only alternative. However, the experts cannot really tell us exactly how this should look. According to Prof. Fink, there are numerous studies showing that "a high level of education" and "a lively intellectual activity" protect against dementia, but this does little to help those affected. The current approach by Norwegian and British doctors to treat vitamins in people with dementia could be more likely. According to their study, the use of vitamins B6 and B12 was successfully tested in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a kind of pre-stage of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Accordingly, the daily intake of vitamins B6 and B12 can slow the death of the brain cells in the risk patients mentioned by up to 50 percent. However, the research team led by David Smith from Oxford University pointed out that the long-term effect of the vitamins had to be investigated in order to rule out negative consequences, since some vitamins can cause cancer in high doses. So Smith warns against carelessly swallowing high doses of vitamins. An equally promising approach could, according to Prof. Fink, be the studies by an American research group that sees hopes of strengthening a particular enzyme so that it supports the breakdown of harmful protein deposits. Any promising treatment method will take a long time to complete, according to any expert.

Therefore, it is currently primarily about an appropriate handling of the disease. Federal Minister of Family Affairs Kristina Schröder today presented tomorrow's World Alzheimer's Day 2010 the new internet portal "Wegweiser Demenz", which does not only offer offers for prevention and help for already ill people on site. "People with dementia need special care. We have to give the sick people a voice, support caring relatives and encourage volunteers in their work," emphasized the Federal Minister for Family Affairs. The Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth wants to create a basis for this with the internet portal. Under the link for the first time comprehensive information and help offers in Germany for dementia patients and their family members are provided, explained the Minister. (fp)

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