One in three children born in 2015 will develop dementia in later life, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK.
That’s a scary statistic, admits the charity’s Charlotte Abrams.
“But if we keep doing the research,” she adds, “if we keep raising funds, we will change that.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a physical disease in the brain which affects the connections between nerve cells, leading to the death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue.
It is the most common cause of dementia, but there are other types of dementia too, including vascular dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies – a type of dementia with symptoms common to both Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. In the UK, 850,000 people are currently living with dementia and that number is set to rise rapidly over the next few decades, says Alzheimer’s Research UK.
It’s estimated that the number of people living with dementia around the world is going to nearly triple by 2050, from 46.8 million people to 131.5 million.
As Charlotte explains, Alzheimer’s Research UK is determined to change that. The organisation has committed nearly £80 million to research into Alzheimer’s and dementia since 1992, with £14.8 million awarded to research projects last year alone.
Supporting a mission to bring about change
The past few years have seen some key developments thanks to pioneering research, including the discovery of the genes that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Currently it’s our mission to bring about the first life-changing dementia treatment by 2025. We believe that once we have this, it will lead to more developments much faster,” says Charlotte.
Many families in the UK have experienced the unique cruelty of dementia first-hand, whether it’s caused by Alzheimer’s or another condition. Symptoms include memory loss, disorientation, difficulty performing familiar tasks and rapid changes in mood.
As someone begins to lose who they are, daily life becomes more of a challenge and basic tasks become impossible. Dementia changes your personality and takes away your ability to look after your most basic needs.
Many people seeing their loved one’s slow decline from Alzheimer’s or another dementia experience some kind of anticipatory grief, where they begin grieving before their loved one’s death.
“The main thing people associate with dementia is memory loss,” say Charlotte, “but it can completely change the person’s personality. You find that with Alzheimer’s it’s not just when they pass away that you lose them, it’s as they’re developing the disease.”
People who have been diagnosed with dementia, as well as carers and volunteers play an important part in helping the charity in its ongoing research. They actively encourage people to take part in research, from clinical trials to lifestyle surveys to better its understanding of how the disease develops.
These and Alzheimer’s Research UK’s other cutting-edge research projects are helping medical professionals understand causes, prevention and potential treatments. Voluntary donations and gifts left in wills by people and families affected by dementia play an important part in supporting the charity’s battle against the diseases that cause it.
“We receive no government funding for our research, so all of our projects are funded by the generosity of our supporters,” says Charlotte.
“Our research is vital in order to understand about causes, preventions and a cure for dementia.”
Funeral tributes and memorial donations
One special way that many people choose to support the charity is in memory of a loved one. The organisation can make donation envelopes available through funeral directors so that mourners can give a donation in tribute at a loved one’s funeral or memorial service in lieu of flowers.
For some, donating to a favourite charity is a meaningful way to remember loved ones on special occasions, whether that’s a birthday, an anniversary, at Christmas, or simply because they’re missed. Many supporters have chosen to set up a Lasting Memory Gift which is a website where family and friends can leave messages, light a candle and share photos as well as making donations.
The charity has also recently launched A Place to Remember, which is a virtual map where supporters can dedicate a location to their loved one anywhere in the world.
“If someone donates in memory online, they’ll get taken through to a map, where they can pick a place and post a memory,” Charlotte explains. “For example, if there’s a beach that you went to with your dad, you could pick that location, put a picture on it and a message. People can share their memories and it will build up a map of special places, remembering people who have passed away, but whose memory inspires our research every single day.”
To find out more about the pioneering research into Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, visit Alzheimer’s Research UK.