Closer to a cure for dementia

Australian researchers have set upon a ground breaking discovery, which has the potential to lead to a possible diagnostic test for delirium and a cure for dementia.

Researchers from the Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney have been hailed as the first in the world to discover a definite link between the cause of delirium and the cause of dementia in a recent ground breaking study.

The research, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, proved that delirium and dementia are linked through the brain’s abnormal metabolism of glucose. It is the only study to have ever shown that delirium, at a cellular level, can lead to dementia.

Associate Professor Gideon Caplan, who led the research team, explained how, as in the case of delirium, brain cells that do not metabolise glucose normally, do not function properly and eventually die. This deterioration of brain cells, he said, is a precursor to dementia.

“We looked at what’s actually happening in the brain during delirium,” said director of geriatric medicine at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital, Professor Caplan.

“What we found was a profound alteration in glucose metabolism. Glucose is the main fuel for brain cells. When the brain switches from normal glucose to abnormal glucose metabolism, it becomes less efficient.

“The brain then works harder to produce more energy for itself. The by-products of abnormal glucose metabolism are radical oxygen species which leads to brain cells dying.”

“…This means that much of the damage to the brain seen with dementia happens during episodes of delirium; and that better treatment of delirium may help to prevent or slow the progression of dementia.”

Delirium is one of the major drivers of Alzheimer’s dementia. It is often a trigger for hospitalisation in the elderly and a common syndrome affecting older people in hospital. The findings therefore have the potential to lead to a diagnostic blood test for delirium and a new treatment for dementia.

“Delirium is common in hospitals….If we have a diagnostic test for delirium it will lead to better recognition and prompt treatment,” he said.

“And a specific treatment for delirium would then reduce the development or progression of dementia, or both.

“People are more prone to get dementia if they have [experienced delirium]. If we can stop delirium when it happens then hopefully we will stop them from developing dementia.”

Professor Caplan said that previous trials, conducted by drug companies, have focused on amyloid metabolism instead of glucose metabolism. 

“We believe that by exploring this pathway, we will have more chance of finding a cure for dementia.”

The research was conducted with the support of the Cell Biology Lab at the University of New South Wales.

Tags: aged-care, delirium, dementia, prince-of-wales-hospital, university-of-new-south-wales,

2 thoughts on “Closer to a cure for dementia

  1. My father in law had a double heart bypass in the late 1990’s. When we visited him the following night, he displayed signs of delirium. He wasn’t making sense and was extremely suspicious and accusing the nursing staff and doctors of being out to get him etc. I approached the doctor at the hospital about his behaviour as I was extremely concerned. He said this was sometimes associated with the anaethestic – but he had been operated on over 24 hours earlier. He now has severe dementia, first signs were noticed in 2005.
    He is 78 years old.

  2. My mother, who is now 92 and has severe old age dementia, only started showing signs of dementia when she was diagnosed with high blood pressure (she had always had low blood pressure until then) and was put onto medication for it. I have always blamed the medication because my neighbour had previously been put onto the same medication and soon after, dementia had set in.

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