Digital in action against Alzheimer’s disease
In his article in Deep Dive: Digital II, Tim Parry, the Director of Communications, Brand and Partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK, explains how digital technologies are both helping to transform the public’s perception of dementia, and enabling everyone to help scientific research into the disease by playing a smartphone game that tests navigation skills.
The complexity of the scientific barriers that block the path to life-changing breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is probably not lost on anyone. As a sage colleague characterised it, “we’re trying to find the faulty connection in the world’s biggest super computer with the lights off”. But there is optimism in the field that disease modification may be tantalisingly close. Funding for research is increasing and collaboration and innovation are helping to close the gap on other areas of disease research.
But research progress doesn’t happen in isolation; it also takes political, economic and social drivers positively conspiring behind the science to create real momentum. So, while biomedical research is naturally the main focus of our work at Alzheimer’s Research UK, we also look at the bigger picture to identify where we can enable progress through other means outside the lab or clinic.
We have been working to decipher social attitudes and public understanding of dementia, and determine how these may be enabling, or holding back, progress.
Through quantitative and qualitative research we’ve begun to build a picture of the problem. And it is a problem. We know that only around 23% of the public in the UK recognise that someone with dementia is living with a disease at all. It leads many of us to believe dementia is an unavoidable product of older age. And if people believe that dementia is just a part of ageing, it breeds a fatalism that’s hard to overturn. Research can’t do anything about age, so what can it do about dementia?
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