ALZHEIMER'S disease, which is stealing the lives of 41,700 people in Ireland, is incurable -- but a new drug trial holds out the best hope of breakthrough in a decade.
Prof Brian Lawlor, a psychiatrist in St James's Hospital in Dublin, is recruiting 500 patients, 110 of whom are in Dublin and Cork, to take the blood pressure drug Nilvadipine.
It is hoped it can slow the progression of the brain disease, which can begin with memory loss and mood swings before progressing to severe confusion and delusions.
He told the Irish Independent there were only two licensed drugs for the treatment of the symptoms of the disease.
"While they improve symptoms, they do not do so to a great degree. They provide some stabilisation for six to nine months," he added.
He said doctors were trying to move diagnosis from the middle stages to the earlier stages of the illness and there were better advances in terms of looking at scans to give clues about the disease.
But it is still mainly based on symptoms and ruling out other conditions.
"People are becoming more aware and that is going to drive earlier diagnosis. The family of Albert Reynolds speaking out will prompt people to go to their GP if they have a memory problem," he said.
It is still a great fear of older people and it holds a lot of fear and stigma. It is very hard to predict how fast it will progress.
He pointed to the growing problems faced by carers in accessing home help and respite.
"It has become more difficult because of cutbacks. While a lot of investment needs to be put into prevention and treatment of the disease, just as much needs to go into the caring part because that is right now," he added.
Around two-thirds of people with Alzheimer's live at home, while the remainder are in nursing homes across the country.