Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Treating Dementia

This afternoon, I attended a conference on the diagnosis and treatment of dementia.  Several crucial points were made, including the importance of an accurate diagnosis (only 65% of cases are actually due to Alzheimer's Disease).  Furthermore, a variety of treatable conditions may cause dementia-like symptoms (alcohol abuse, depression, certain vitamin deficiencies, sleep disorders, toxins, hypothyroidism and hyperparathyroidism, among others) and, for these, curative measures are available.

Advances in genomics and biomarker technology may assist with early diagnosis, and a healthy life style (a Mediterranean diet, regular aerobic exercise and tobacco avoidance) may diminish the incidence and progression of Alzheimer's Disease.  While certain medications may modify the severity and course of dementia, curative treatments are not available at this point (though ongoing research studies offer hope).

What was not discussed at this conference (and a subject generally avoided by physicians at this stage of human enlightenment) is the option of assisted suicide for end-stage dementia patients.  This group of diseases, which rob individuals of their mind and their dignity, place a great deal of stress on caretakers and a tremendous financial burden on families and on society as a whole.  Should a dementia patient, while still capable of making decisions, request this intervention at a given point in their disease progression, I, for one, strongly support their right to die with dignity.

See: Thoughts on Assisted Suicide