Thousands of people could be spared the uncertainty of an incorrect dementia diagnosis following the announcement of a breakthrough test to be introduced in Britain.
The scan will allow doctors to rule out a patient having Alzheimer’s — the most common form of the disease — or the chance that it will develop within five years. The test will also improve doctors’ ability to diagnose the disease, bringing hope to millions who fear developing the illness as they grow older.
The Prime Minister will pledge to lead a “global fightback” against dementia, which he says is a disease that “steals lives” and “wrecks families”.
In a speech at the summit, Mr Cameron will say: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in London or Los Angeles, in rural India or urban Japan — this disease steals lives, it wrecks families, it breaks hearts and that is why all of us here are so utterly determined to beat it.
“In generations past, the world came together to take on the great killers. We stood against malaria, cancer, HIV and Aids, and we are just as resolute today. I want December 11, 2013 to go down as the day that the global fightback began.”
Mr Cameron wants to double the amount of money spent on dementia research from the £66million allocated for 2015.
One in five Alzheimer’s diagnoses turns out to be incorrect, meaning patients are given unnecessary medication and face the psychological difficulties associated with coming to terms with the illness. It also means patients with other forms of dementia — such as the vascular form — are given the wrong treatment.
Alzheimer’s affects about 500,000 people in the UK, accounting for 62 per cent of dementia cases. Only 45 per cent of sufferers currently have a diagnosis.
The scan was developed by scientists in London. The test involves giving a patient exhibiting signs of dementia a small amount of a radioactive substance, which will allow amyloid plaques to show up in a brain scan.
The presence of the plaques in the brain is one of the main signs of Alzheimer’s, although it does not make the disease inevitable, so doctors using the test would be sure of giving a patient the all-clear only if the plaques were absent.
It is the first time doctors have been able to detect the plaques while a patient is alive.
Dr Richard Perry, a neurologist from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Until now, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has not been always straightforward because we haven’t had a simple test to show whether someone has it or not. For many people, we can be fairly confident of the diagnosis due to their age, results of memory tests and brain scans, but for others, who may be younger or who have very early symptoms or an unusual presentation, we are less confident.”
Dr Perry added: “If you are in your fifties, working, and have a family, being told by a memory clinic that you may have Alzheimer’s disease can be devastating, so it’s important to get that right.”
He said that the test would not be for the “worried well”. It will only be used if a consultant has expressed concern that a patient could be suffering from dementia, Dr Perry added.
The breakthrough comes amid increasing concern about the neglect of people with dementia.
The Care Quality Commission is to inspect 150 hospitals and care homes to check on the care given to dementia patients in England, brought about by worries over the potential mistreatment of the most vulnerable.
The health watchdog is to carry out focused inspections to identify failings in care and make recommendations to improve the quality of services.
Hospitals and care homes will not be given warning of the visits, which will form the regulator’s first national review of dementia care, which will publish its findings in May.
Mr Cameron will also use the London summit to announce that Britain has attracted £2 billion in private sector investment in life sciences in the past two years.
He will say that the fight against dementia is the key health challenge of this generation.
Eli Lilly is the pharmaceutical company behind the new test. It announced that the first patient is to be scanned at Charing Cross Hospital in west London.
Prof Mike Hutton, the chief scientific officer for neurodegenerative diseases at Lilly UK, said: “The availability of [this scan] in the UK is an important step towards helping patients. A negative scan can help rule out Alzheimer’s disease as a cause of cognitive impairment, which is an important part of avoiding potentially inappropriate or even harmful treatments.”
A study this week found that regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle can cut the risk of developing dementia.
Researchers found that there were five key steps people could take to reduce their chances of suffering dementia, heart disease and diabetes.
The Cardiff University study found that those who took regular exercise, ate fruits and vegetables, remained at a healthy weight, drank in moderation and did not smoke were less likely to develop the diseases.
People who followed four out of five of the healthy habits were 60 per cent less likely to suffer cognitive decline or dementia, the researchers found.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, last month published a “dementia map” of England showing that in some areas, fewer than four in every 10 sufferers have their condition recognised by the NHS.