As the population ages, the rate of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is expected to nearly triple, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Roughly 5 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. By 2050, an estimated 13.2 million people could have the disease.
However, according to research by the Alzheimer’s Association, experts have made huge strides toward understanding Alzheimer’s since it was discovered in 1906. Understanding of the disease gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s with the birth of institutions like the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the Alzheimer’s Association. By the turn of the century, real, effective treatments for dementia began to emerge.
Today, the world remains united in urgency, grasping for even deeper care, support, and research. This drive towards new research, medical advancements, and technology, as well as improvements in care homes and memory care communities, shapes the future of care for those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
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Scientists representing an array of disciplines are studying dementia and forming close, collaborative partnerships with renowned institutions. Institutions like The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are investing in research to better understand brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. They’re shaping the development of new studies, key initiatives, and potential treatments of dementia-related conditions.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating innovations in recent memory care research is the study of donated brain tissue. Thanks to modern technology, researchers can use donated brain tissue to study the effects of dementia-related brain changes. Scientists and researchers study the brains of people who have passed away to learn how dementia affects the brain. In fact, a single donated brain can have a huge impact on potentially hundreds of studies.
Researchers learn the most from the brains of people who have participated in studies while they’re still alive. This allows researchers to track changes in memory, thinking, language, and behavior. They can also gather information on biological and environmental factors. If researchers can obtain more detailed information about the brain donor, they can learn about the relationships between their cognitive test results and changes detected in the brain tissue. This knowledge provides context on biomarkers, which also includes data collected in blood tests and brain scans.
Biomarkers help researchers diagnose diseases, track healthy processes, monitor responses to medication, and identify health risks in a person. Research shows that advances in understanding biomarkers have helped researchers track dementia-related changes in the brain. Biomarker research is improving dementia detection, diagnosis, and treatment. Biomarkers may also one day be more widely used in doctors’ offices and various clinical settings.
The use of biomarkers to diagnose dementia is still undergoing research and development. However, scientists now believe that biomarkers can signal brain changes decades before memory loss even appears. Scientists are continually working on ways to slow or prevent the changes that lead to dementia, and biomarkers are proving essential to these projects.
Research from institutions like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the NIA, and the NIH is addressing the challenges faced by people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. According to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), today’s memory care research focuses on these initiatives:
New Alzheimer’s treatments are always in development. Many will require significant testing and long-term study, but progress continues. Treatment strategies currently under study include the following:
While experts generally remain hopeful, different areas of research within one area may conflict. And, developing medications is always a gradual process. That said, in June 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved aducanumab for the treatment of some cases of Alzheimer’s disease. This is the first FDA-approved therapy in the U.S. to treat the underlying biology of Alzheimer’s. It does this by removing amyloid plaques in the brain. Experts need to conduct further studies and identify which patients may benefit from the drug. However, this innovation could mean sustained independence and prolonged memory recall for those with dementia.
Everyday products and memory care activities can be extremely useful in easing the symptoms of dementia. Calendar apps and voice-activated assistants can help seniors remember tasks like taking medications, controlling the thermostat, and staying connected with loved ones. These devices help provide a sense of control for seniors and reduce their risk of social isolation or boredom.
Today’s advanced memory care technology also helps enhance brain-health awareness and improve access to online health care. The following technological advancements have the potential to relieve caregiver stress and enable seniors with dementia to age in place:
Workers in telehealth are also developing new services and programs that provide help for specific areas of health care, including online senior-focused fitness classes and online caregiver education and training through the Tele-Savvy program. This program ultimately helps teach caregivers how to think like a nurse. It includes weekly video conferences, daily video lessons, and interactive learning about other caregivers’ experiences.
Similar to telehealth care, advancements in social media also provide potential benefits in promoting healthy aging in seniors with dementia. Social media can also help relieve caregiver burden by increasing access to health information and education.
Recent studies show AI-related improvements in a patient’s daily functioning, quality of life, and well-being. AI can also reduce caregiver burnout by assisting with things like activities of daily living (ADLs), including dressing, grooming, and eating. According to research, robots are more and more able to collaborate with humans and are easily trainable. Soon, this may make it easier for the AI, through a device or robot, to engage with a patient and assist them with specific tasks.
Furthermore, as if they were a human following a script, AI technology can perform structured tasks for administrative purposes. These tasks include updating patient records or billing, which helps professional caregivers in hospitals and medical environments.
Researchers are investigating what works to support dementia caregivers. They’re testing everything from upgrades in training and career development for community staff to the acceleration of research-based memory care programs. Modern memory care communities are raising their standards through the following tactics:
With the momentum in dementia research and memory care technology, experts will likely drive real memory care change at a faster and faster pace. Whether you’re a professional or an at-home caregiver, make a point of keeping an eye out for the newest developments as they occur more and more often. Understanding today’s innovations and research can be crucial in obtaining the best care for your loved one.
To find memory care facilities with the latest advancements, consider reaching out to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom to find the right care option to suit your needs. This service is free and has helped families find the best local care for decades.
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