New projects offer dementia hope

The project is based at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.

10:00am Monday 19th March 2012 in News

TWO multi-million pound projects have just been launched in Oxford in the hope of one day finding a cure.

Over the next five years, the LEAD (longitudinal early Alzheimer’s disease) project will see a group of about 200 people from across the county and country monitored to find a way of slowing down, and curing, the progression of Alzheimer’s – the most common form of dementia.

The project is based at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.

Lead researcher Professor Gordon Wilcock, said the programme would study a group of people with early Alzheimer’s, people with mild memory problems and also ‘normal subjects’.

Through a series of check-ups the project will track changes in brain scans, blood readings and memory ability in each person.

He said the research will then be used to create diagnostic tests to identify Alzheimer’s much earlier than at present.

It comes just weeks after The Scarlet Road study, a worldwide research project into dementia, also announced it would be carried out in the city.

It will take people with early signs of memory problems and monitor them over the coming years.

Prof Wilcock said: “Research studies are extremely important in the development of new treatments for diseases, and ultimately these new treatments could contribute to the well-being of individuals and their families.”

The study investigators are looking for participants aged between 50 and 85 years who have noticed a gradual decline in memory and aren’t currently taking any medications for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. They should have a friend or relative who is able to say how they are managing with daily activities and are interested in participating in a study that lasts for two years and five months.

Those who believe they may be eligible to participate in either project, or know someone who may be eligible, can visit or call 0808 189 1497 for more information.

Help for sufferers like these

AT THE height of her career, Jo Lea was a high-flying doctor, leading groundbreaking trials and working for the blood service.

Now, at the age of just 63, she does not recognise her sons and husband.

Mrs Lea, from Little Wittenham, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2005, when she was 55.

Just seven years later, Mrs Lea’s disease has progressed to such an extent that husband Andrew took early retirement from his career as a nutritional scientist and is now her full-time carer.

Mr Lea, 63, said alarm bells started to sound in 2003 when his exceptionally bright and intelligent wife, with whom he has two grown-up sons, began to lose her ‘cutting edge’.

He said: “She began to lose her organisational skills. Jo was a great gardener but she started doing strange things like buying plants and letting them die without planting them.

“Little things like that which were out of character for her.

“Eventually she also became very paranoid, and delusional. She came up with stories that people were trying to undermine her.”

Mrs Lea’s GP had initially believed her difficulties were due to depression and stress, but after antidepressant treatment failed to work she was sent for further tests.

After her diagnosis in 2005, Mr Lea said his wife’s condition became difficult to manage and she spent nine months being cared for at the Fullbrook Centre at the Churchill Hospital before returning home to her husband.

He said: “She knows I’m the person who looks after her.

“Whether she knows I’m her husband, or when the boys visit, they are her sons, I don’t know.

“But she’s pleased to see us, and she still smiles and laughs. And that is incredibly rewarding.”

He added: “It’s upsetting to lose the person you love. We’ve been together 40 years and had plans for our future. But she still has things she enjoys – music therapy is a source of joy.”

The couple have taken part in many research studies through Thames Valley Dementias & Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Network (Dendron) .

Mr Lea added: “If you can provide help to some people, it gives value to a situation which is otherwise very distressing.”

‘We hope our brains help others’

JEAN and Allan Plastow, from Stanford in the Vale, have been married for 62 years and have known each other since they were children.

The couple have decided to donate their brains to dementia research after Mr Plastow, 84, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago. Mr Plastow said: “We decided to donate our brains because we want to help other people.

“We reckon we’ve got about six years left together.

“We don’t expect the research to do us good in our lifetime.

“But we want to help others going through the same thing.”

Claire Merrit, lead research nurse for Dendron, said: “This research is vital to finding cures and providing support to people with dementia.”

Oxford is a hot bed of research into dementia and other memory problems.

Each is run with the support of the Thames Valley Dendron based at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

Dendron, part of the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, supports trials by encouraging patients and carers to take part.

The Brains for Dementia Research project – which the Plastows are taking part in – takes samples of brain tissue from people with and without dementia, after they have died in the hope of finding a cure.

A long but active goodbye

NOT every diagnosis of dementia has to signal the beginning of the end.

Larry Gardiner, 59, a former company director, was diagnosed with vascular dementia following a series of strokes in 2005.

But since his diagnosis, he has become a ‘dementia evangelist’ speaking out about the benefits of enabling, empowering and encouraging individuals to continue to flourish and thrive through activities, adventures, exercise and outdoor pursuits.

The father-of-three is now studying a writing course at Ruskin College so he can use his experience, and that of others, to create a play about dementia.

He said: “A lot of people with dementia long-term, lose capabilty and capacity.

“And that’s my future. It’s a long goodbye.

“But hopefully the activities I’m involved with will actually help slow down the progression of the illness.”

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