WOULD you want to know if you were in the early stages of a neurological disorder, such as Alzheimer’s disease, even if there was no cure?

Three out of four people would, according to new global research by GE Healthcare. An even higher percentage of respondents, 81per cent, would want to identify an incurable neurological disorder if it affected somebody close to them, with more women (84 per cent) wanting to know than men (76 per cent).

The ‘Value of Knowing’ survey of 10,000 adults across ten countries explored perspectives on incurable neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

While the overwhelming consensus (94 per cent) is that the Government or health insurance providers should cover diagnosis, just over half the respondents indicated that they would even be prepared to pay for a diagnosis themselves.

“What these statistics tell us is just how strongly people feel about tackling neurological disorders like dementia,” said Marc Wortmann, executive director of Alzheimer’s Disease International. “Worldwide, nearly 44 million people have dementia and this number is expected to nearly double in 20 years as the world’s population ages. Although there is no cure yet, a timely diagnosis is useful for people with dementia to get access to current treatment, services and support, both medical and non-medical.

“Governments and healthcare systems need to ensure ready access to the diagnostic tools already available to accurately diagnose disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, so that people can manage the symptoms as early as possible.”

When people surveyed were asked why they would want to know, the most common answer was to start treatment that could help manage the symptoms of the disease. Other reasons included the opportunity to change lifestyle to potentially slow the impact of the illness, and the ability to make informed decisions. Those who would not want to know cited undue worry and the futility of knowing about their disorder without being able to control it.

Dr. Ben Newton, Director of PET Neurology for GE Healthcare, said: “It’s understandable that dementia is a frightening topic for people. That said, although there are currently no cures for many neurological disorders, there are symptom-modifying therapies and approaches available if detected early enough. It’s interesting to note that the majority of respondents with more experience of a neurological disorder via a loved one for example, said that they would want to know, in spite of there being no cure.”

The research also probed respondents’ recognition of possible signs and symptoms of dementia. While a majority (70 per cent) recognised memory loss and disorientation as signs of dementia, less than half were able to identify other common symptoms, including language problems, personality, mood and behaviour changes, and loss of initiative.

Dr. Newton added: “Acting early on any concerns may mean patients have access to earlier diagnosis and intervention, which could help to manage and delay the impact of a disorder.”

There are more than 450 million people living with neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. There is currently no cure for dementia, and every four seconds a new case is diagnosed.

Claire Ward’s grandmother showed early signs of dementia, including memory loss, difficultly performing familiar tasks and problems, for two years before she was diagnosed.

“Initially we put it down to old age. It was only when she started having problems with talking, and became more aggressive that we thought it may be more of an illness,” said Claire, of Eccleshill. “My mum took her to see a doctor and it was confirmed that she had dementia.

“It was too late for her by then, because it progressed very quickly and she went more and more downhill until she died. But it made me think that if my parents or I were showing signs of dementia, I’d want to know as early as possible.

“It would enable you to have treatment that may slow down the progression of the disease, and to make plans for the future.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Other forms include vascular disease, dementia with Lewy bodies and fronto-temporal dementia.

GE Healthcare produces diagnostics scanners, imaging agents and software to help physicians see more clearly inside the brain and aid better patient management. Between 2010 and 2020, GE Healthcare plans to invest more than $500 million in research into neurological disorders, with the focus on developing new neurology diagnostic solutions, educating consumers and expanding research already in progress. Target areas include diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, stroke, concussion and traumatic brain injury.