Tackling critical issues in dementia diagnosis, care and treatment

Research project: King’s College London Multi-professional Clinical Training partnership: critical issues within dementia diagnosis, care and treatment

Lead Investigator: Professor Dag Aarsland

  • Institution: King’s College London
  • Grant type: Clinical Training Partnership 
  • Duration: 36 months 
  • Amount: £225,000

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

This is an exciting proposal drawing together experts in three distinct areas, all of which have the potential to make important contributions to diagnosis and treatment of dementia. 

Project summary

This programme brings together the skills of the different types of health professionals, to research three areas in dementia diagnosis, care and treatment:

  1. Find new biomarkers to improve diagnosis and better predict outcomes for people with dementia with Lewy bodies
  2. Understand the reasons for and experience of attending emergency departments for people with dementia approaching end of life
  3. Establish clinical trial biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down’s syndrome

The background 

Biomarkers 

Biomarkers are signals we can test for in people with dementia, for example from a blood sample. These signals can help us work out whether someone has dementia and which type. 

  • Dementia with Lewy bodies

Approximately 10-20 per cent of people with dementia have dementia with Lewy bodies or Parkinson’s disease dementia. In the early stages of dementia, it can be difficult to tell these apart from Alzheimer’s disease. Getting a correct diagnosis as soon as possible is important. People with dementia with Lewy bodies are likely to react differently to treatments, and need a different kind of support to someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down’s syndrome

People with Down’s syndrome have a high genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Over 90 per cent of people with Down’s syndrome are likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease by the age of 60. People with Down’s syndrome are often excluded from clinical trials. There may be biomarkers that could help us better understand and support clinical trials to help prevent dementia in people with Down’s syndrome.

Emergency departments for people affected by dementia

We know that going to hospital can be stressful for people affected by dementia, and can lead to people’s health and wellbeing getting worse. It is still very common for people with dementia to be admitted to hospital, in particular through emergency departments.

Reducing the number of people admitted to hospital would benefit people affected by dementia. We need to understand more about why people are admitted to decide how to reduce admissions.

What does the project involve? 

1. Find new biomarkers to improve diagnosis and better predict outcomes for people with dementia with Lewy bodies

Researchers will review published research papers and data already collected in their own research, to identify the most promising biomarkers for dementia with Lewy bodies. To maximise their chances of finding a suitable biomarker, researchers will use patient data from networks in the UK and beyond. 

This study could help find a simple way to accurately diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies. An early, accurate diagnosis means people can receive the right information and support when they need it.    

 2. Understand the reasons for and experience of attending emergency departments for people with dementia approaching end of life

Researchers will review published research papers, examine anonymous NHS data, and collect in-depth case studies to understand the experience of people with advanced dementia attending emergency departments. 

From this wealth of evidence, researchers can develop a model to help understand the reasons why people with advanced dementia visit emergency departments.

With this evidence, we can provide the right support for people affected by dementia to avoid attending emergency departments, find ways to improve their experience and reduce unnecessary admissions to hospital.

3. Establish clinical trial biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down’s syndrome

As part of the ongoing, long-term ‘LonDownS’ study, researchers have already collected a lot of data from people with Down’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. This includes information about their memory and thinking skills, and potential blood biomarkers.

The researchers will collect detailed measurements in 100 people over two more time points, 12 to 18 months apart. From these tests, researchers will be able to tell more about how these biomarkers change over time, and predict how Alzheimer’s disease will develop in people with Down’s syndrome.

This study can support the involvement of people with Down’s syndrome in clinical trials for the treatment and prevention of dementia.

How will this project help people with dementia?

Altogether, the results from these projects will help different types of health professional to answer some important questions within dementia diagnosis, care and prevention.

This evidence can have a positive effect for predicting and planning future care and targeting therapeutic interventions to have the biggest impact for people affected by dementia.

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Further reading