Irreversible and progressive, the Alzheimer’s disease can destroy one’s memory and thinking skills. It is characterized by plaques and tangles in the brain as well as the loss of connections between the nerve cells (neurons).
There is still no assurance how the process of this brain disease begins, but it seems likely that the damage has already started before the other problems become evident. When will a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s die also varies—about 3 to 4 years if the person is older than 80 and 10 or more years if the person is younger.
Fortunately, some researchers from the University of Melbourne have developed a simple blood test that could diagnose early onset Alzheimer’s disease 20 years before symptoms begin to appear. The test was designed for people aged 65 and over, as both the body and mind need to have aged for the test to be effective.
Devices to assist those with Alzheimer’s disease also abound to date. There is the fall-detection system, radio-frequency emitting modules, GPS, art-based therapy, pervasive health interventions, COACH [Cognitive Orthosis for Assisting Activities in the Home], and external memory aids.
The fall-detection system could detect falling incidences based on building vibration patterns. It was developed by Victor Hirth from Palmetto Health and Juan Caicedo from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine upon finding out that people with dementia have two to four times the risk of falling, leading to a higher incidence of traumatic injuries.
To capture gait speed, a research team led by Eric Wan at Portland State University developed a new low-cost system that can analyze signal dispersion. This will particularly benefit the aging population and in identifying individuals at risk for developing dementia.
So that physicians could monitor a patient’s treatment plan, the GPS technology was developed by Stephen Bonasera and his colleagues at the University of Nebraska. The application could also check on the life space—that is, the geographic territory where the patient moves about.
The art-based therapy, on the other hand, provides a valuable outlet for expression and fosters engagement for people with varying stages of dementia. Jesse Hoey and his team from the University of Waterloo had collaborated with a group at the University of Toronto to prove this; they developed a large, multitouch tool in the form of an artist’s easel to let art therapists create customized paintings and drawing screens that can accommodate their patients’ needs specifically. An artificial intelligence program runs behind this client interface and employs audible and visual prompts to keep patients engaged.
There are also pervasive health interventions that can monitor health behavior even at home. The modules incorporate both assessment (home monitoring and self-reporting) and coaching on the cognitive exercises, physical exercises, sleep management, and socialization of the patients.
Denoting cognitive orthosis for assisting activities in the home, COACH can help to complete activities of daily living (ADLs). Alex Milhailidis and his colleagues have demonstrated this, indicating acceptance to robotic aid. There is also the InCense, a toolkit that uses GPS, Wi-Fi, an accelerometer, and near-field-communication tags to improve situational awareness and resolve the problem of wandering among patients with Alzheimer’s.
Currently, no drug treatment could cure the Alzheimer’s disease. The medicines cholinesterase inhibitors (e.g. Aricept, Exelon, and Reminyl) and NMDA receptor antagonists (e.g. Ebixa) can only improve symptoms, or temporarily slow down their progression, in some people.
“People think it’s just forgetting your keys. Or the words for things. But there are the personality changes. The mood swings. The hostility and even violence. Even from the gentlest person in the world. You lose the person you love. And you are left with the shell… And you are expected to go on loving them even when they are no longer there. You are supposed to be loyal. It’s not that other people expect it. It’s that you expect it of yourself. And you long for it to be over soon.” ~ Alice LaPlante
Video taken from the YouTube Channel of the Alzheimer’s Weekly