As Appeared in the Herald March 29 2012
The brains of half a million Scottish adults are being damaged by the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a leading expert has warned.
One in five over the age of 40 has suffered from a “significant degree of mental impairment” which is caused by the disease but undiagnosed, said Professor Claude Wischik, chairman in mental health at Aberdeen University. Official statistics show there are 84,000 diagnosed sufferers in Scotland.
Last night the charity Alzheimers Scotland said it would like to compare Mr Wischik’s evidence to its current methodology.
The professor said his research estimates around one-third – 170,000 people – will get full-blown Alzheimer’s in the next decade.
The degenerative brain condition causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour which gradually become worse. Sufferers usually die from multiple organ failure.
Mr Wischik, who spent 10 years researching the subject, said: “We calculate about 500,000 of the five million population in Scotland have a combination of a significant degree of mental impairment and significant brain pathology.
“Of these, only 50,000 to 80,000 appear as Alzheimer’s statistics. The rest are at early stages that are likely to progress over the next 10 years to full-blown dementia.”
Mr Wischik, who said his statistics applied to those aged 40 and over, warned that NHS bosses faced a “progressively greater” financial strain when it comes to tackling the disease.
He said: “Half of acute hospital patients are basically dementia patients. In acute-care hospitals they present a social and management problem that the acute-care system is poorly equipped to deal with.
“Systems need to be in place to intervene before these patients get into the acute-care system.”
The findings come after one of the largest post-mortem studies ever carried out, in which 847 bodies were studied by the Braak’s research group.
The study looked at the brains of 17 people per age bracket from aged 40-plus, and classified the evidence of Alzheimers disease.
From this evidence, Mr Wischik calculated the number of Scots likely to be suffering early symptoms of the disease.
He added: “The system can’t cope the way it is. There has to be a radical overhaul.
“There will be a premium on early diagnosis and intervention that is way outside the scope of what the NHS is currently able to deliver.
A spokeswoman for Alzheimer’s Scotland said it would have to take on board the findings.
She said: “Currently the best available statistics show that about 84,000 people in Scotland are likely to have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions.
“As Mr Wishik’s figures are significantly different, we would very much like to review his evidence base in relation to our current methodology and wider policy implications.
“We greatly welcome further research to improve our understanding of how and why people develop dementia, so that we might ultimately find ways to prevent or cure the illness.”
Prime Minister David Cameron this week announced that funding for dementia research would be doubled to £66 million to tackle what he called a “national crisis”.
There is no known cause of Alzheimer’s, but risk factors include age, genetics and a family history of the disease.
Complications include heart attacks, thromboembolisms, strokes, kidney failure and lung infections.