As a PhD student, the funding for my studentship comes from the Alzheimer’s Society. This is part of an Alzheimer’s Society Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Sussex, which supports the research of eight PhD students from multiple disciplines over the next 5 years. The Alzheimer’s Society are a charity helping to care for those affected by dementia, and funding research into the cause, cure, care and prevention of dementia.
As part of my studentship, I was offered the opportunity to shadow Dr Naji Tabet at the Crowbrorough memory clinic. Dr Tabet is a long-time collaborator with the Rusted Lab, and has collaborated on a number of research studies so it was nice to get the chance to see Dr Tabet working in a clinical setting.
The patients attending this clinic had already been assessed by NHS memory services, and were attending a follow-up visit to receive further information on their diagnosis and/or advice, treatment and further care provisions. The patients spoke with Dr Tabet with a nurse present, who was often the nurse that conducted a home visit to initially assess the patient, so the patients and family members had a familiar face present.
The patients that attended the clinic on the day I visited had a variety of different outcomes from their initial assessment. Some patients received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, based on the results of their cognitive tests and brain scans. These patients were offered information about treatment options, and advice about future support. All the patients and family members were pleased to arrange a visit from a dementia adviser, who can guide them in how their individual needs can be supported in the future and in what help is available to them, as well as offering emotional support. Furthermore, they can put patients and their families in touch with local support networks, such as .
Another individual was attending the clinic because of a family history of Alzheimers. Dr Tabet explained that despite a family of history, it is only a risk factor and does not mean the individual will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Tabet spoke at length how making changes to improve diet, exercise and keep cognitively active could greatly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
This case was particularly relevant to my PhD, as it related to the genetics of AD, and to reducing risk though changes in the individual’s environment. An individual’s genetic risk of developing the most common type of Alzheimer’s disease is most strongly affected by the APOE gene. The APOE gene has three different alleles (ε2, ε3, and ε4). Carrying the ε4-allele is associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Tabet spoke about how environmental changes recommended would be the same regardless of the APOE genotype of the individual. One of the aims of my PhD is to increase our understanding of the interactions between APOE genotype and the environment, which could result in an improvement in our understanding of how to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and therefore further improve the information that can be given to individuals with high genetic risk for dementia.
By Rebecca Atkinson