Authors of the study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, said all patients should be given ‘suicide risk screening and additional support at the time of receiving a dementia diagnosis’.
The Alzheimer’s Society agrees that patients and loved ones should receive this support, including, says Hannah Churchill, access to peer support groups, education for carers and care planning.
It could also mean starting medicines that might help the person cope with their symptoms — such as Aricept, a drug which helps nerve cells damaged by dementia to keep communicating with each other.
It can temporarily ease some symptoms but cannot prevent the disease from worsening.
‘For many, a dementia diagnosis may be a relief — an explanation for the changes they’ve been experiencing, especially if they have lived with symptoms for years,’ says Hannah Churchill.
‘And early diagnosis means better access to personalised care and support, such as occupational therapy, which means people with dementia can live well for longer.’
So is there any prospect of a drug that could stop Alzheimer’s in its tracks?
Scientists at Durham University last week revealed they had developed a futuristic £7,000 helmet that might be able to reverse dementia by zapping the brain with pulses of infrared light to boost memory and processing skills.
But the technology is several years away from routine use.
Hopes of a breakthrough in the search for a pharmaceutical solution were raised earlier this year by the fast-track approval in the U.S. of aducanumab, a drug that could slow or halt Alzheimer’s by reducing the build-up of a toxic protein — called amyloid — in the brain.
But the approval caused huge controversy, with some critics accusing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — which gave it the green light — of ignoring the unanimous verdict by its expert advisory committee that trial evidence failed to show that aducanumab is effective.
The injectable drug, which costs £42,000 per patient per year, is not available here. But UK regulators are carrying out their own rigorous assessment to see if the clinical benefits justify a licence.
The drug would then have to be evaluated for cost benefit by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
According to the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, that process is unlikely to be completed until ‘the middle of 2022 at the earliest’.