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The technology and investments that could mean a cure for Alzheimer's

6 minute read
elderly man with alzheimer's using virtual reality bike to bring back memories

Labelled a ‘global health crisis’, dementia affects at least 44 million people across the globe and Alzheimer’s disease is its most common form.

The disease causes the outer layer of the brain to shrink, impairing signals between brain cells and eventually killing these brain cells by starving them of the food and energy they need to survive.

The outer part of the brain is responsible for the short-term memory, which is why those in the early stages of the disease have trouble with memory and finding the right words to speak. As the disease progresses deeper into the brain, long-term memory and other activities of daily living – such as dressing, bathing and personal hygiene – become affected.

With 10% of Australians over 65 being diagnosed with dementia and the disease now the leading cause of death in Australian females, the need for a cure has never been stronger.

Of all the disorders that plague us late in life, one remains a big threat: Alzheimer’s disease

Bill Gates - The billionaire backing

Enter Microsoft co-founder and humanitarian, Bill Gates who has pledged to donate $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, as well an extra $50 million towards other start-ups researching Alzheimer’s disease.

Gates explains his rationale behind the investment, “The longer you live, the more likely you are to develop a chronic condition… But of all the disorders that plague us late in life, one stands out as a particularly big threat to society: Alzheimer’s disease.”

Credit: Bill Gates

The five areas Gates is committed to making progress on are:

  • Understanding the underlying causes behind Alzheimer’s
  • Developing ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier
  • Having more diverse approaches to stopping Alzheimer’s
  • Making it easier for people to participate in clinical trials
  • Better using data to determine patterns and identify new treatment pathways

And, he’s optimistic about the potential for breakthroughs with this terrible disease,

“With all of the new tools and theories in development, I believe we are at a turning point in Alzheimer’s R&D (research and development)… I’m excited to join the fight and can’t wait to see what happens next.”

BikeAround – a ride down memory lane

Although there are some drugs tests currently underway that are showing positive results when it comes to reversing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, an innovative Swedish device is already improving the lives of dementia patients using technology.

Pairing Google Street View and a stationary bike, BikeAround fuels the memories of users by allowing them to virtually ride down streets from their childhood and youth.

Credit: Google

BikeAround explains its effectiveness comes from its combination of mental and physical stimulation. Immersing the patient in places they recognise evokes the memories that could otherwise be lost.

“Scientists think this kind of pairing (the mental and physical stimulation) produces dopamine in the brain and has the potential to affect memory management in a profound way.”

If you, or someone you love is affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s, you can find more information on Dementia Australia’s website.

At nib, we can assist nib customers with Alzheimer’s and dementia to find healthcare services that can help. Our Care Coordination Team can help assess your needs and point you in the right direction for local services, programs and long term care. Depending on individual circumstances we may offer services covered by your health cover. To find out more, call one of our Care Coordination experts on 1800 339 219.

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