There is no cure for disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, common forms of dementia, but medication can prevent deterioration and reduce the symptoms if the condition is diagnosed early, Pravat Mandal, a professor at the National Brain Research Center (NBRC) here, told IANS in an interview.
Mandal, a senior editor of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and guest editor of the American Journal of Neuroradiology, has developed a state-of-the art imaging technology to detect early signs of dementia.
The test is available free of charge for the first time in India at the NBRC. More than 300 people, mostly referred by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), have benefited from the test, introduced about a year and half ago, Mandal said.
Dementia is a progressive loss of cognitive functions that leads to confused thinking, and mostly affects the elderly. People suffering from the disorder tend to forget things like what they ate yesterday or their own address. They also develop hallucinations.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the number of people living with such diseases worldwide was 35.6 million in 2010, could double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.
According to a report by the Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Society of India, the country had an estimated 3.7 million people with dementia in 2010, and the number is set to double in the next 20 years.
The 13-minute-long non-invasive test developed by Mandal and his team is being performed in collaboration with Manjari Tripathi of the AIIMS' neurology department.
"The test could easily detect the abnormalities in the early stage of any disorder. The MRI scans offered by the centre are safer and easier as they do not require radiation, drugs and surgery," Mandal said.
For want of awareness, people are not well informed about the need for brain scans, said Mandal, who is a post-doctoral Fellow at the University of California-Davis and an assistant professor in the psychiatry department of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He obtained his doctorate from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras.
"Before any manifestation of brain disorder, certain chemical changes occur in the specific regions of the brain. In some cases, structural changes are also observed in the brain prior to the clinical symptoms," Mandal said.
"For instance, in the case of pre-Alzheimer, hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in the processing of memory and spatial navigation, becomes alkaline; in normal aged persons this is acidic," he added.
Anybody who is above 60 can be affected by the disorder as age is the main risk factor for Alzheimer's. In rare cases, some genetically inherit it, Mandal pointed out.
"The earlier the disorder is detected, the better the intervention," he said. Awareness is required about the latest technology so that more patients can avail themselves of this free service, Mandal said.