Review of World Alzheimer’s Month 2023

Defying dementia with new drugs, and neuro occupational therapy.

Each September, people unite from all corners of the world to raise awareness and to challenge the stigma that persists around Alzheimer’s disease and all types of dementia.

During World Alzheimer’s Month,  a call is sent out to everyone, from individuals to large organisations, including every Alzheimer’s and dementia association globally, to support World Alzheimer’s Month by getting involved in some way.  

Many people still wrongly believe that dementia is a part of normal ageing. This alone highlights how important public awareness campaigns, like World Alzheimer’s Month, are for changing perceptions and increasing existing public knowledge around Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.  

With the number of people living with dementia set to almost triple by 2050, it has never been more important to recognise the risk factors associated with dementia and take proactive steps towards risk reduction. As such, the 2023 campaign of Alzheimer’s Disease International ‘Never too early, never too late’ centred on the key risk factors and risk reduction, aiming to emphasise their crucial role in delaying and potentially preventing the onset of dementia. This also importantly includes ongoing risk reduction for those who have already been diagnosed.

The aim of the  ‘Never too early, never too late‘ campaign was to underscore the pivotal role of identifying risk factors and adopting proactive risk reduction measures to delay, and potentially even prevent, the onset of dementia. This includes ongoing risk reduction strategies for individuals who have already received a diagnosis. 

There is growing awareness that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can start many years prior to symptoms, likewise awareness of the lifelong brain health interventions and choices that can be made. There has never been a more urgent need to understand and respond to the risk factors associated with this condition.  

During the September 2023 World Alzheimer's Month there was lots to celebrate in some of the latest research findings in preventing and managing Alzheimer’s disease.

Experts are calling it the beginning of ‘a new era’ of Alzheimer’s therapy as scientists move ever closer to discovering what causes this progressive neurodegenerative disease and, vitally, what cures it. Although words of caution are tempering the new findings (it’s still early days!) fresh seeds of hope have been sown.

Here are some of the latest discoveries...

Fabulous fungus

Diet is one of the most important weapons in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease.  There is mushrooming evidence that a healthy diet can help to manage, delay or improve some Alzheimer’s symptoms, such as memory loss or cognitive difficulties, and now the mushroom itself is under the microscope of researchers investigating the impact of early dietary interventions for the progressive disease which causes damage to brain cells.

In a study published in Foods Journal, a Chinese research team reviewed literature that explored how mushrooms' bioactive properties might help delay the onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

They concluded, “Mushrooms may be a promising functional food for preventing AD. Mushrooms have many bioactive compounds that have the potential to regulate AD.”

These findings are encouraging, however, a substantial amount of research is still needed to study their optimal dose, limitations, bioavailability, the differences between chemical forms, and their possible interactions with other dietary components.  

Drug discoveries

Among the fresh drug findings in the Alzheimer’s field lately, two names in particular have been making headlines - Lecanemab and Donanemab.

Both drugs have been shown to slow down the loss of memory and thinking skills in patients with early Alzheimer’s symptoms. Donanemab slowed it down by over 20%, with evidence suggesting the earlier it was taken in the disease stages, the better the outcome. Lecanemab achieved a 27% slowdown, and was also found to be effective for early-stage Alzheimer’s.

However, as with all new drug discoveries, there is much more research to be done, particularly as the most recent trials of both drugs only lasted 18 months and most participants were from a white background.

Neuro OT aid for Alzheimer’s

Neuro-occupational therapists (OTs) understand how Alzheimer’s symptoms can impact life after a diagnosis – for the individual and those who care about them. They use evidence-based occupational therapy strategies and tools that can reduce the impact of the disease on activities of daily living.

Their approach includes assessing changes in the ways the body and brain function, such as:

  • Emotions, moods, and personality 
  • Memory and thinking skills
  • Planning and problem-solving
  • Behaviour and self-image
  • Language and communication

Neuro OTs also help clients to understand more about how the disease may be impacting them and the things they can do to:

  • Improve, develop, or re-learn abilities and skills
  • Maintain independence
  • Compensate for challenges
  • Modify their environment

Whilst everyone is mindful of their physical and mental health not everyone is as mindful of the issues which may arise when their health is impacted whether that be by illness or injury.  We would always recommend forward planning for these events where possible such as creating lasting powers of attorney and drafting wills, however, sometimes these are only at the forefront of your mind when you have already reached an impasse. If you are supporting a loved one who lacks capacity and you need assistance please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Court of Protection Team.