Alzheimers

Reporter: Alison Fan

"So in the beginning it was very difficult for me to go to the doctors and say I've got Alzheimer's or memory problems"

Difficult because computer specialist --Tony Shipley was only in his early 40s when he suddenly forgot what he was doing.

"I knew I was losing something but doctors didn't seem to want to diagnose anything around Alzheimer's or dementia"

Tony was a computer designer working for the Government when he realised he was becoming easily confused.

"I decided I had Alzheimer's or something like that but none of the doctors would prescribe that because I was very young."

It's rare for an Alzheimer's patient to give a TV interview. That's because it's very, very difficult. Tony explained how he couldn't remember my questions, just seconds after I asked them.

Professor Ralph Martins is a major reason why Perth is now leading the world in Alzheimer's research.

Alzheimer's specialists now know what to look for. Victims and their families say they wish they had known earlier what was happening to them.

Alzheimer's has been recognised for around 100 years but its only now that doctors can pick up the damage with special screening. The image on the left of screen is a normal brain.

On the right --the brain of an Alzheimer's victim --showing shrinkage.The contrast between the two highlighted in red. It begins with mild symptoms of memory loss then disorientation. As the brain damage increases, victims experience more problems with everyday tasks until eventually they need full time care.

After decades of research all over the world, the first major breakthrough came in Perth.

That first breakthrough was identifying what caused Alzheimer's: The Perth team found that a build-up of a sticky substance in the brain, --a protein called Beta- Amyloid ...that kills off brain cells

Discovering beta amyloid was a big step, allowing scientists all over the world to delve deeper into alzhermiers causes. Now, the focus is on early diagnosis.

At last our knowledge about Alzheimer's is growing. Professor Martins and his team at Edith Cowan University and McCusker Research Foundation have pinpointed lifestyle factors that can lead to Alzheimer's:

* HIGH CHOLESTEROL

* LACK OF WEIGHT BEARING EXERCISE

* LOW PHYSICAL AND MENTAL ACTIVITY.

* POOR NUTRITION

And trials are now being held --checking the protection powers of:

GREEN TEA.

FISH OIL CAPSULES.

While the developments are too late for advanced patients, there's hope for others like Tony who is now 55. His wife Margi has watched him progressively get worse. But while Tony's lost his memory --he can still share a joke.

McCusker Foundation For Alzheimer's Disease Research

(08) 9347 4200

184 Hampden Rd
Nedlands WA 6009

0433 439 366

Mobile Service

(08) 9389 6433

Clinical Trials Division

www.alzheimers.com.au

mccuskerfdn@ramsayhealth.com.au