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Published on January 8th, 2014 | from CAMH

Hope on the Horizon for Alzheimer’s Patients

For Alzheimer Awareness Month, CAMH’s Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry Dr. Tarek Rajji blogs about our latest research.

Misplacing house keys or forgetting where you parked at the shopping mall – we can all relate to slips in memory. For those living with Alzheimer disease, coping with the challenges of dementia and struggling with memory have a real impact on everyday life. As a clinician and a researcher, I’m excited about advances we’ve made in the field of Alzheimer disease, which offer hope for better treatments in the future.

In an ongoing CAMH study, we are looking into how to compensate for some of the deficits that come with Alzheimer disease by improving frontal brain function, That means improving executive function, which affects how we plan, organize and filter information –brain functions we need to follow a recipe or balance a chequebook. To do so, we are using magnetic stimulation of the brain to enhance neuroplasticity in the frontal brain and therefore its function. We are exploring new options for treating dementia in our patients and providing treatment to improve their quality of life.

While medication is an important tool, it’s exciting for me as a researcher to be able to offer patients with Alzheimer disease other options such as brain stimulation. We hope to better understand the mechanism that leads to the disease, reduce the effect of it on a person’s life and hopefully prevent it in the long run. Recently, my colleagues and I spoke about this research on a panel about the future of geriatric mental health at MaRS Discovery District.

As a clinician, I also recognize that many people with dementia end up in hospital because of aggression and agitation. An interdisciplinary geriatric team at CAMH developed a systematic approach to treat these symptoms through medications and other interventions such as socialization, exercise and sensory stimulation. The goal is to minimize hospital stays and side effects from medications. This leads to individualized treatment with better tracking to improve outcomes. Our hope is to take this model and implement it in long-term care homes and expand it to include other forms of dementia.

Going forward, it’s prime time for the community of clinicians, researchers, patients, families, and caregivers to better engage so that we can move science forward faster. We need more dialogue between researchers investigating this disease and people living with it. We need to listen to patients and their families so we can set the agenda together and in the end, that’s how we’re going to see progress in better treatments and outcomes for Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Tarek Rajji is Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry at CAMH.

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