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Sidestep the dementia snake oil

There have been a series of breakthroughs in our understanding of the mechanisms which cause Alzheimer's disease, and the future is brighter because of them.

But along with the good news, there are inevitably those who ride on the back of it to try and sell patent "cures" to the desperate and vulnerable.

Where there is sadness and despair, there will always be people queuing up to exploit it.

So what are the facts, and how can we recognise the difference between a potentially useful therapy or treatment and a confection of smoke and mirrors designed to make money out of misery?

Now I'm no scientist. I'm just a bloke living with dementia who has done a little homework. But as far as I can see, there are broadly three routes of study that claim to bring benefits to people living with a diagnosis of dementia.

  1. Drugs, gene therapy and the treatments that are being pioneered by the makers of Aducumab, Lecanamab, Aduhelm etc. A include in this category medication that may slow cognitive decline (Donepezil etc.).

  2. Session-based interactive therapy and mental stimulation ("brain training", arts and crafts workshops etc.).

  3. Dietary regimes, physical exercise and vitamin supplements.

I realise that I've tried to corral a multitude of different philosophies, disciplines and research strands into a mere three groups, but hey! Being an ignorant novice has its advantages, and I'll be delighted to receive feedback from you professionals to help with my classifications.

Each of the three strands I have identified above has the potential to be targeted by get-rich-quick scammers or people who rush to market without a proven, tested product.

There are fortunes to be made here. The market for cures is vast and growing daily. Also, the clock is ticking for those of us living with dementia, and many of us may be tempted to suspend our critical reasoning to pursue the chance of a cure when it is offered.

Let me be clear. I am not talking about participating in research - I do that myself, and the profit is in extending and enhancing human knowledge.

I am talking about buying a product that claims to slow the decline into dementia or even reverse or cure it.

Dementia is probably one of the most diverse illnesses. The most common causes are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Vascular dementia

  • Dementia with Lewy bodies

  • Fronto-temporal dementia (including Pick’s disease)

But beneath its umbrella sit over a hundred conditions, and many people with dementia are subject to more than one of them.

So. No panacea then.

But obvious things like exercise, diet and stimulation have been shown to keep one "sharp", and it really is common sense that applies to all illnesses.

Beware though those books that claim to "REVERSE DEMENTIA", "END ALZHEIMER'S" or "HEAL PARKINSONS DISEASE". Books like this are beginning to flood the market and are often simply diet books rebranded for the dementia market.

In the wake of the well-publicised trials of the Lecanamab treatment, I predict that there will be a wave of interest in patent medicines, alternative therapies and snake oil remedies that will make outrageous and inflated claims about the efficacy of their product. Caveat Emptor - "let the buyer beware" is all very well, but when the buyer is in a heightened state of anxiety after being diagnosed with a potentially life-limiting illness, it's simply cruel to offer the false certainty of cure or reversal.

So be on your guard. Do your research before committing to purchasing any "plans" or products. Perhaps your Doctor could prescribe a dietary plan for free or recommend some vitamin supplements? Or maybe you can find a local fitness group or an arts, crafts, singing or creative writing group that will help your social skills and keep your mind sharp? Be patient. New discoveries and advances are being made every day.

And meanwhile, you can still live well with dementia.

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