Medical research is advancing by leaps and bounds, but a cure for Alzheimer’s is yet to be found. Nevertheless, several services and non-pharmacological therapies, as well as gerontechnology devices, exist to support those who suffer from Alzheimer’s, as well as their caregivers.
Alzheimer’s : facts and figures
- In the world, nearly 44 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s or some related form of dementia.
- By 2050, this number will swell up to 130 million.
- Alzheimer’s is most prevalent in Western Europe and North America, and least prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- In the UK, more than 1.5 million people‘s lives are affected by Alzheimer’s, either directly or through caring for a family member with the disease, compared to nearly 1.3 million people in France.
Source : Alzheimer’s Disease International, Alzheimer’s Research UK, France Alzheimer
Alzheimer’s research : the road so far
More than 100 years after the disease was discovered, scientists are still unable to define the exact causes behind this complex neurodegenerative pathology. But thanks to research, knowledge of the disease has expanded substantially and there has been significant progress in the care provided to those affected.
Not a day goes by that a researcher doesn’t come up with a new (and sometimes eccentric) approach to stalling the disease. For example, some studies are currently focusing on the benefits of a gold-based nanoparticle supposedly capable of targeting overactive brain receptors responsible for neurological diseases, or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. But those studies are only just getting off the ground, and to this day, no treatment can fully cure Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
Overview of support schemes for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers
Several schemes exist to support those suffering from Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, whether through diagnosis, structuring support, or coming up with new accommodation solutions ; this new thought process developed alongside the Silver economy in Europe and beyond, most noticeably in France, and has already borne fruits :
- Memory evaluation tests are the most routinely used method of diagnosing Alzheimer’s at an early stage for better care.
- Adult day centres provide temporary accommodation to patients ; they support caregivers through respite platforms and favour an ageing-in-place approach.
- Long-term care facilities provide patients with permanent accommodation and medical supervision.
- In the US : Alzheimer’s special care units (SCU’s) are memory units located in a residential care facility. Patients typically share an entire floor or wing of the facility, and receive assistance from trained and specialised staff.
- In France : the MAIA (Home for the Autonomy and Integration of Alzheimer’s Patients) are structures which plan and coordinate care through tailored home care plans and provide support, respite and informations to friends, family members and caregivers.
Numerous associations also take actions to improve the lives of those with Alzheimer’s and their family caregivers ; French association France Alzheimer, for example, organises “memory cafés”, planned outings, caregiver training sessions, support groups, and even thermal therapies.
Non-pharmacological therapies stimulate patients’ cognitive and emotional faculties ; they also aim at assuaging the anxiety generated by certain situations, and make verbal and nonverbal communication easier for friends, family members and/or caregivers.
The most famous non-pharmacological therapies include art therapy, music therapy, therapeutic gardens, , pet therapy, autobiographical workshops, sophrology…
Focus on Snoezelen
The word “snoezelen” derives from the Dutch “snuffelen” (smell) and “doezelen” (doze). Snoezelen-based therapy uses many different sensory stimulation strategies, with one aim : stimulating individuals in a dedicated location, a “safe place” where they can relax.
Technical solutions to support people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers
Geo-tracking, video monitoring, remote monitoring, smart pill dispenser with reminders, therapeutic robots… The Silver economy gives birth to an endless string of innovations and solutions to support those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
Focus on geo-tracking
Geo-tracking devices (wandering-prevention bracelets, boxes or GPS beacons, connected devices…) allow caregivers to locate and find someone quickly. They’ve been wrongly compared to prisoners’ monitoring bracelets, as they allow affected people to roam freely without getting lost and suffering the grave psychological consequences of prolonged wandering.
Focus on video monitoring
This technology relies on a behaviour analysis software coupled with video sensors. When the system detects an abnormal situation (fall, loss of consciousness, wandering…), an alarm is sent automatically and can be checked by an operator.