Family Doctors to Take the Lead on Dementia Risks

A major foundation trust in the north east of England has been handed a major funding boost as the health service looks to improve treatment in that region of the country.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has secured an additional £1.15m of funding boost amid financial difficulties for the health service.

The extra money is intended to support work to take a national lead on radical new options for the future of local hospitals across the country, and thus the foundation trust has asserted that the NHS as a whole will benefit.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens announced in September that the trust was one of only three organisations selected to spearhead work to develop new ways of working known as ‘multi-hospital chains’.

The funding will be derived from the £200 million fund already earmarked for the NHS to assist such transformational projects.

By creating Northumbria Foundation Group, the work will enable the trust to widen the support and services it provides to other organisations, building on the success of work already taking place.

The Northumbria trust will then be put in the privileged and responsible position of being required to share its clinical knowledge and expertise across the NHS.

Spreading innovation and best practice will be central to this ethos, but the Northumbria trust will also provide corporate services to other similar organisations in the health service.

David Evans, Northumbria Healthcare’s chief executive, commented that the trust was uniquely qualified to take on this responsible new role.

“With many years of successfully running multiple sites within hospital and community settings across a large geographical area, we have vast amounts of experience to share with the wider NHS. Given this experience and our track record of delivering improvements with our work with North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, we are ideally placed to spearhead this exciting work and form a foundation group.”

Evans also took time to explain how the funding will specifically assist the Northumbria trust in carrying out its duties and vision for the future.

“This funding will help us bring our vision to life and enable us to progress our plans to share our knowledge and expertise, helping to drive up standards across the UK, while creating vast efficiencies through sharing corporate functions.”

Northumbria Healthcare has been in a ‘buddy trust’ arrangement with North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust since 2013.

This has enabled the two organisations to provide an extensive range of clinical and managerial expertise.

And both argue that this has led to a significant improvement in the safety and quality of patient care hospitals in locations such as Carlisle and Whitehaven.

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Global Expert Suggests that Cure for Dementia is on Horizon

A major health leader believes that a cure for dementia will be found by the end of the decade.

Dr Dennis Gillings, outgoing chairman of the World Dementia Council, suggested that recent scientific research had surpassed his expectations, and that a major breakthrough is now on the horizon.

Gillings had previously been appointed by David Cameron back in 2013 to create the Global Council.

And the doctor believes that great strides have been made in the scientific understanding of dementia, with gaps in research being filled on a regular basis now.

“The original goal [of the council] was disease modification by 2025,” Gillings commented. “I feel a lot more optimistic now: I wouldn’t be surprised if we get there by 2020 or 2021.”

Gillings believes that understanding of the way to treat dementia has taken quantum leaps over the last few years.

In particular, Gillings opined that treating dementia as a singular condition had been mistaken, and breakthroughs would ultimately result from developing treatments targeted at varying subsets of the condition.

“We may need more customised diagnoses. We used to just think cancer now we know there are many different types, with different treatments. We need to approach dementia similarly.”

Pharmaceutical products available to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s presently mask symptoms, but it is impossible to prevent the onset of disease.

Yet treatments are now being developed which have the potential to remove the plaques in the brain that are synonymous with dementia.

It may also be possible in the future to instigate a form of brain training in order to help repair lost neural pathways.

Gillings was also positive about the recent creation of a £150 million Dementia Research Institute.

On the other hand, the doctor did express the opinion that funding for research on dementia could scupper efforts to solve problems in the UK.

The United States invests significantly more money into both researching and developing techniques related to dementia, and Gillings believes that this will ultimately result in more major breakthroughs in America.

Gillings also expressed fear about whether treatments will be properly funded in this country.

“We need sensible partnerships here. What we need to avoid is making a breakthrough such a drug that can destroy plaque but is then refused by the NHS. I do have fears about that.”

The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt believes that remarkable process has been made in treating dementia.

“While we are seeing progress in drug development and greater understanding of this disease, there can be no cause for complacency and I look to the World Dementia Council to use their expertise and global reach to drive governments, industry and regulators to further action.”

There are currently approximately 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, underlining the significance of this issue.

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NICE Guidance Focuses on Link Between Alcohol and Dementia

Guidance provided by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggest that middle aged people should reduce their alcohol consumption in order to cut the risk of developing dementia.

People aged between 40 and 64 who regularly drink alcohol increase their risk of developing the mental condition.

The new guidance has been based on the established principle that positive lifestyle changes during middle age are likely to persist into later life.

This is seen as being a critical habit-forming period that can seriously prolong life, as well as improving its quality in a person’s autumn years.

While there has been a particular focus on cutting alcohol consumption, the guidance submitted by NICE suggests that a raft of lifestyle changes can be particularly beneficial for middle-aged people.

Stopping smoking, being more physically active, adopting a healthy diet, and achieving and then maintaining a healthy weight are all considered viable health options as well.

While the guidance suggests that stopping alcohol consumption completely is the ideal scenario, significantly reducing it is also considered effective.

NICE also suggest that arranging an NHS Health Check with a general practitioner should also be considered advisable.

This is effectively a free health MOT for people aged between 40 and 78 which is a good indicator of overall physical condition.

The health check is centred around a range of simple but important tests, such as blood cholesterol and pressure tests, designed to assess your risk of developing a number of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease and stroke.

Healthcare professionals will be available to discuss results with those individuals who book an NHS Health Check.

Advice will tend to focus on the action that can be taken to diminish the risk of certain conditions, with advice given regarding the improvement of vascular health in particular.

It is thought in some quarters that due to lifestyle choices that we could see the first generation in the coming decades that has a shorter life expectancy than the preceding generation.

In order to assist the general public in improving the health in line with the suggestions, the NHS has produced health apps and trackers.

More information on positive changes to lifestyle and ideas on healthy living are available in the Live Well section of NHS Choices. 

It is notable that this guidance is being issued in the context of a serious debate on a proposed sugar tax.

This discussion is indicative of the poor lifestyle and diet choices that are having a negative impact on the health of the nation.

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Major International Dementia Conference to be Held in Birmingham

A major international conference tackling dementia will take place at Birmingham in November.

Held between 3rd and 4th November, 2015 at the Vox Centre, the International Dementia Conference will bring together leading medical figures from around the globe.

In addition, attendees from a variety of different industry backgrounds will be on hand in order to learn and share ideas on the best ways to tackle this global issue.

Issues facing managers in the NHS, care homes, social care and housing providers will be on the agenda, with a particular focus being placed on best practice, changing cultures and planning for dementia.

International speakers will include:

Professor Timothy Kwok, Director of Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing, Chinese University of Hong Kong, who will focus on improving hospital care through prevention strategies and psycho-social interventions for dementia. The prevention strategies under investigation will include vitamin B, nutritional supplement, TaiChi and cognitive training;

Helen Matheny, Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Outreach Program, USA, who will discuss the first private-public state-wide partnership to support living well with dementia;

Professor Tara Cortes, New York University College of Nursing, who will share success in online training and offer an exclusive preview into the forthcoming US National Alzheimer’s Strategy.

The number of people affected by dementia is expected to double in the next couple of decades on the basis of the ageing population alone.

This is therefore a critical issue for the NHS going forward, and this insightful international conference in Birmingham will provide the opportunity for experts in the field to examine the issue in depth.

There will also be a focus on economic issues related to commerce, and Professor June Andrews, Director, Stirling University’s Dementia Services Development Centre, and a leader in developing this exclusive conference, commented that “understanding how your business best interact with people diagnosed with dementia can have significant impact on long term success.”

The international dementia conference has been established as an interactive, educational platform, in order to drive understanding of this critical and debilitating condition.

Over the two days of the conference, 60 concurrent session presentations will be held.

The sessions are intended to address topics ranging from best practice, housing, design, understanding, caring and many more valuable areas for dementia discussion, with the overarching aim of stimulating debate.

Organisers have also stated that the conference programme will feature a series of individual talks, panel discussions and practical case studies highlighting the recent trends related to Best Practice; Inspection and Regulation; Training and Regulation; Law and Ethics; and Art and Culture; Housing; Financing Old Age; Living with Dementia; Research and Design; Care at Home; Families, Faith and Communities.

Professor Andrews concluded that the event will be vital for anyone wishing to gain an understanding of dementia.

“This is a conference for everyone who want to know how to better serve and care for those affected by dementia. Best practice ideas will be shared and trends revealed that will help many sectors prepare to confront this increasingly important subject.” 

For further information regarding attending the International Dementia Conference, please click here.

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Report Identifies Vitamin D and Dementia Link

A new report from the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the University of California suggests that there could be a link between vitamin D deficiencies and the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Deficits in the so-called sunshine vitamin were particularly linked with memory loss in those over the age of 60, although experts do suggest that there is a very simple solution to the problem.

Simply consuming a daily vitamin supplement, with an approximate value of £5 per tablet, can overcome this vitamin gulf, and ensure that the statistical chances of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s is seriously diminished.

Researchers participating in the study were able to prove that the widely available vitamin possesses healing properties related to mental state.

This would seem to suggest that keeping vitamin D levels topped up should be a priority for people, considering the benefits of the sunshine vitamin that are already common medical knowledge.

Vitamin D is known to play a key role in keeping bones healthy and is absorbed into the body from exposure to sunshine and eating diets rich in egg yolks, cheese and fish oil.

But the revelation that it can also have a seriously positive impact on the way that the brain functions is a major breakthrough in understanding.

Results of studies on 382 people carried out by the University of California found that those aged between 60 and 19 with vitamin D deficiencies were the most prone to dementia.

Mental ability was tested once a year for an average of five years as part of the research. Participants included people with normal cognition, mild cognitive loss and dementia.

Speaking about the significance of these results Joshua Miller, professor of nutritional sciences at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in New Jersey, indicated that the data gleaned by researchers was actually rather clear-cut.

“There were some people in the study who had low vitamin D who didn’t decline at all and some people with adequate vitamin D who declined quickly. But on average, people with low vitamin D declined two to three times as fast as those with adequate vitamin D,” Miller explained.

Professor Christian Holscher, a dementia researcher at Lancaster University, concurred, stated: “The study clearly shows vitamin D deficiency puts people at risk and accelerates the development of dementia.”

It is notable that people in the UK are particularly vulnerable to low vitamin D levels, as a result of the relatively paltry levels of sunshine to which we are collectively exposed.

Although documenting the true level of vitamin D deficiency in the UK is extremely difficult, it has been estimated by scientists that around 20 per cent of adults and 15 per cent of children in the UK may currently have low vitamin D levels.

Recent evidence has indicated that a new case of dementia is diagnosed every three minutes in the UK, and it is predicted that by 2050 more than 2 million people in the country will be suffering with that debilitating mental condition.

Those wishing to peruse the full study can access it in the journal Neurology.

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New Molecular Test Offers Insight Into Ageing Process

A new molecular test developed by researchers can give indication of how well an individual is coping with the ageing process.

It is hoped that the product of this research will enable the way that ageing is approached in medical research to evolve considerably.

The test could enable physicians to assess the biological age of an individual, rather than relying on the crude measure of the number of years that they have lived thus far.

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (EU/EFPIA), the Wallenberg Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Findings from the research have been published in the Genome Biology journal, and the scientists behind the study and resultant test believe that it will ultimately lead to more sophisticated treatment of age-related diseases.

It is thought that the test will make it easier to identify people most at risk of diseases influenced by age and ageing, as well as improving the way that anti-ageing treatments are evaluated in clinical settings.

A trio of institutions were involved in the seven-year collaborative study.

King’s College London, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Duke University in the USA all played a role in developing this revolutionary test.

The three academic institutions utilised the process of RNA-profiling to measure and compare gene expression in thousands of human tissue samples.

Research carried out in the process of developing the molecular test veered away from the considered orthodoxy in this medical area.

As opposed to the usual approach of looking for genes associated with disease or extreme longevity, the researchers instead discovered that the ‘activation’ of 150 genes in the blood, brain and muscle tissue were a hallmark of good health at 65 years of age.

From this revelation, it was then possible for researchers to create a formula that can be readily reproduced, which essentially crystallises a healthy ageing process.

This formula can then be utilised in order to decipher how well a person is ageing compared to others born in the same year.

Reflecting on the study, lead author, Professor James Timmons at the Division of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at King’s College London, stated: “We now need to find out more about why these vast differences in ageing occur, with the hope that the test could be used to reduce the risk of developing diseases associated with age.”

Researchers in fact found that there were an extensive range of biological ages, indicating that this new way of looking at the ageing process is entirely distinct from chronological age.

It was also notable that low scores correlated significantly with cognitive decline, suggesting that the molecular test could play a major role in the prediction and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other dementia conditions in the future.

However, lifestyle choices should still be considered important in the ageing process, as the scoring in the molecular test does not correlate with common lifestyle-associated conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Despite the flaws of the molecular test, researchers involved with it were still enthusiastic about the opportunities it could conceivably offer.

Dr Neha Issar-Brown, programme manager for population health sciences at the MRC asserted that the “new test holds great potential as with further research, it may help improve the development and evaluation of treatments that prolong good health in older age.”

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Surge in Dementia Volunteers Promises Medical Breakthrough

As the UK government continues its attempts to address dementia, its plans have received a welcome boost.

The government has pledged to find a cure for the condition by 2025, owing to the massive demographic problems that dementia threatens in the future.

The number of people with dementia in the UK is forecast to increase to over 1 million by 2025, and over 2 million by 2051.

However, these figures are based on a worse case scenario, and the fundamental assumption that there are no public health interventions in the intervening years.

But despite the sheer scale of action required to address demential in Britain, some good news on the issue is evident.

There has been a large rise in the number of people volunteering to take part in research studies related to the condition.

Official figures show that over the last twelve months, 22,000 people have taken part in research studies related to dementia; a 60 per cent increase over the previous year.

The increased participation in research has been documented by he National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Currently, around 100 ground breaking dementia research projects are being conducted throughout the British Isles, and scientists state that the vastly increased volunteerism related to these will greatly assist the process of seeking a cure for dementia.

The rise in participation was in part triggered by the Challenge on Dementia and Dementia 2020 Challenge; both initiatives of the existing Conservative government.

These two programmes are intended to accelerate learning on the topic of dementia, with the overarching aim of discovering a cure by the end of the current decade.

Current research projects on dementia include testing whether antibiotics slow cognitive decline, investigating the role of the immune system in dementia, identifying genetic risk factors and improving end of life care for people with dementia.

Speaking on these encouraging developments, Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman welcomed the news.

“Dementia is a devastating condition that can have a significant impact on the lives of those affected and their families. Volunteers are essential to our battle against the disease and I’m delighted that so many people – with and without dementia – are coming forward to participate in ground-breaking new trials,” Freeman enthused.

Aside from the debilitating effects of the illness, there are also clear economic incentives to tackle demential as well.

The total cost of dementia in the UK annually is £26.3 billion, and research indicates that much of this expenditure is funded by dementia sufferers and their immediate family.

Two-thirds of the cost of dementia (£17.4 billion) is paid by people with dementia and their families, either in unpaid care or in paying for private social care.

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BMA calls for proper services for patients diagnosed with Alzheimers

The British Medical Association (BMA) has given its response to the Alzheimer Society’s survey of GPs which suggested that patients with dementia are let down by lack of social care support.

The survey of 1000 family doctors found that dementia patients are increasingly relying on friends, family and unpaid carers because insufficient help is available from health and social care services.

Dr Richard Vautrey, the BMA’s GP Committee deputy chair, said: “Difficulty in accessing social care support has become an everyday reality for GPs, patients and carers. Sadly it is not only the case for those diagnosed with dementia, but also affects the large number of people living with long term conditions or with frail elderly relatives.

“GPs are increasingly frustrated that due to excessive cuts to local authority funding, some of the most vulnerable people in our society are not receiving the level of care and support they deserve.

“The increasing emphasis on diagnosing dementia has not been matched with proper services for patients once they are diagnosed. With an ageing population, and the number of people with dementia set to grow significantly in the next five years, it is vital that sustainable care and support is urgently put in place to help provide the best possible care for those who need it.”

The Alzheimer Society’s survey was published a month after David Cameron pledged to help drive up diagnosis rates.


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Cameron sets out new strategy to fight dementia

Prime Minister David Cameron has set out a new strategy for fighting dementia.

“Britain will expand its efforts to combat dementia over the next five years” said Mr Cameron as he announced ‘Challenge on Dementia 2020’ – his long-term strategy for boosting research, improving care and raising public awareness about the condition.

A growing problem, in 10 years it is expected there will be one million people living with dementia in the UK. Worldwide, the number of people living with dementia is estimated at 44 million people (this figure is projected to double by 2030).

Announcing the plan today (21 February 2015), the Prime Minister said: “Dementia is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime, and I am proud that we are leading the world in fighting it.

“Because of the growing strength of our economy, we can invest in research and drug development, as well as public understanding, so we defeat this terrible condition and offer more hope and dignity for those who suffer.

“That way, we can help make Britain a country that offers security in retirement for all.

Challenge on Dementia 2020 will see the UK government invest over £300 million into UK research and medical innovation. Alongside this, an international dementia institute will be established in England within 5 years, helping to make the UK a world leader in fighting dementia.

Additionally, members of the public will be able to take part in free sessions in schools, shops, church halls or their own workplaces – dementia-friendly communities composed of ‘Dementia Friends.’

The Prime Minister’s sees his new strategy as a key component in maintaining the UK’s status as a world leader in the fight against dementia.


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Alzheimer’s Research UK announces plans for three Drug Discovery Institutes

Alzheimer’s Research UK has announced plans to launch a £30m Drug Discovery Alliance involving three flagship Drug Discovery Institutes at the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and UCL (University College London).

Each Drug Discovery Institute will have 90 new research scientists employed in state-of-the-art facilities to fast-track the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

With dementia affecting over 830,000 people in the UK and costing the UK economy £23bn a year, the Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Drug Discovery Alliance provides a timely boost to the search for effective treatments for those with the condition.

“Academic research is a goldmine of knowledge about diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and by tapping into the innovation, creativity, ideas and flexibility of scientists in these universities, we can re-energise the search for new dementia treatments”, said Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “Working in universities and hospitals alongside people affected by dementia and their families, academic researchers are best placed to take research breakthroughs and progress them into real world benefits for the people that so desperately need them.”

During the G8 Dementia Summit in November 2013, health leaders from across the world pledged their support for a disease-modifying therapy for dementia by 2025. One of these leaders was the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt.

Commenting on the Drug Discovery Alliance, Mr Hunt said: “Dementia can be a devastating condition and I am committed to doing all that we can to help the thousands of people who live with it. These world-leading Institutes will bring new hope to people with dementia by boosting innovation and increasing collaboration so that we can achieve our aim of finding a cure or disease-modifying therapy.”

Dr Karran: “We are committed to making this landmark initiative a success and are confident that the Drug Discovery Alliance will be a scientific tour-de-force. We have ambitions to grow the Alliance over time, hopefully attracting new Institutes from across the globe to become the biggest joined-up dementia drug discovery effort in the world.”



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