Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New hope for dementia sufferers?

I'm extremely interested to hear of an experimental treatment given to a US dementia sufferer by an English physician.

Two months ago Clem Fennell was fading fast.

The victim of an aggressive type of dementia, the 57-year-old businessmen was unable to answer the phone, order a meal or string more than a couple of words together.

In desperation, his family agreed to try a revolutionary new treatment - a bizarre-looking, experimental helmet devised by a British GP that bathes the brain in infra-red light twice a day.

To their astonishment, Mr Fennel began to make an astonishing recovery in just three weeks.

"My husband, Clem, was fading away. It is as if he is back" said his wife Vickey Fennell, 55. "His personality has started to show again. We are absolutely thrilled."

While the helmet has yet to be proven in clinical trials, the family say the effects of the 10 minute sessions are incredible. Mr Fennell can now hold conversations and go shopping unaccompanied.

The treatment is the brainchild of Dr Gordon Dougal, a County Durham GP. He believes the device could eventually help thousands of dementia patients.

"Potentially, this is hugely significant," said Dr Dougal, who is based in Easington, County Durham and is a director of Virulite, a medical research company.

Developed with Sunderland University, the helmet has 700 LED lights that penetrate the skull. They are thought to be the right wavelength to stimulate the growth of brain cells, slowing down the decline in memory and brain function and reversing symptoms of dementia.

. . .

It is too soon to say whether Dr Dougal's invention could help other sufferers. The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and dementia can vary from day to day - and relapses are not unusual. And not all patients may benefit from the treatment.

Dr Dougal stressed that a full, clinically controlled trial would be needed before his anti-dementia helmet could be licensed for public use. A trial of 100 patients is expected to start later this year.

"I made it clear to the Fennells that I didn't know for a fact whether it would work or not, but the results are good," said Dr Dougal.

"He was monosyllabic when I first saw him, but if I ring up now he will answer the phone. He didn't have the verbal skills to do that three weeks ago."

The Fennells have been told they can take the prototype helmet back to the US with them so they can continue the treatment at home.

Commercial versions of the helmet will include 700 LEDs and cost around £10,000.

The Alzheimer’s Society said: "’A treatment that reverses the effects of dementia rather than just temporarily halting its symptoms could change the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people who live with this devastating condition.

‘Non-thermal near infra-red treatment for people with dementia is a potentially interesting technique. We look forward to further research to determine whether it could help improve cognition in humans. Only then can we begin to investigate whether near infra-red could benefit people with dementia.’

One in three people will end their lives with a form of dementia. Around 700,000 suffer from dementia - with more than half having Alzheimer's disease.

This sounds very hopeful indeed. My mother suffered from a form of dementia before her death a couple of years ago, and I know that due to modern medicine extending our lifespan, many more are likely to suffer dementia before their death. If this discovery can be proved in further trials, I'll sign up for one right away - even if I don't need it yet!



Steve said...

I dunno. Interestingly, I am swimming against the tide as I zoom past 40. I have seen good friends die from Alz. and Pick's. My wife is probably genetically preselected for it. But I do not have a desire to extend my life any longer than "naturally" needed.

My feeling is that we all have a time and place on this rock and when we are done, better things await. Thus "artificially" prolonging life robs us of a start at a much more glorious future.

After all, I'm gonna die. This machine may give me some manner of choice in my demise, but in the end, the result is the same.


Rick T said...

Somebody tell Terry Pratchett!!!!

Billll said...

Before you (and I) run out and drop $20K on a fancy hat, let me say that for me the BS alarms are going off all over. To the best of my knowledge, IR ranges from the near infrared to the far infrared, and is manifested as heat, and little else. Such a hat as described would render your head warmer, but none of the Infrared rays would penetrate your skull, except as migrating heat. You can accomplish the same thing by standing outside without a hat on a hot day, or wear a heating pad on your head if it's cloudy. Use sun block outdoors, as this will stop the UV component and prevent sunburn.
Be nice if it works.