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20th September 2016

Singing to the tune of Alzheimer’s

Dealing with his dad’s decline into dementia hasn’t been easy for Simon McDermott, but regular ‘carpool karaoke’ has transformed 80-year-old Teddy back into his old self, at least for a while.

Teddy’s worsening memory and increasing aggression over the past few years since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis have been “incredibly difficult to manage and terrifying at times,” says Simon. But recently, he discovered that Teddy became relaxed and happy when he was singing old hits from his days as a travelling vocalist.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes affecting memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion. Around 46.8 million people worldwide live with dementia and this number is expected to double every 20 years, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. Dementia mainly affects people over the age of 65, but it can also affect younger people, too.

Though Teddy often doesn’t recognise his family, he remembers loads of song lyrics, so Simon and Teddy have taken to the roads, videoing their sing-along sessions as they drive. What they never expected was that Teddy would become an overnight sensation known as “The Songaminute Man” and land a record deal.

Not only has the singing been therapeutic for Teddy, but it’s helped to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research.

Detecting Alzheimer’s early

There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but many people find they’re relieved when they get a diagnosis because they finally have a reason for the changes they’ve been noticing. They can get the right support and treatment, and they can also plan for the future.

Simon is passionate about fundraising largely because of advice he and his family got from the UK Alzheimer’s Society. “Without them we would have had very little idea or support about how to deal with even the basics of Dad’s condition,” he explains.

The charity also funds research into Alzheimer’s disease. A main aim is to find tests that reliably detect changes in the brain before any symptoms of dementia appear. It’s hoped that an early diagnosis could lead to treatment of the disease before the brain has been damaged irreversibly.

Research has led to some promising new biomarkers ‒ in other words, things that can be measured to accurately indicate the presence of disease (e.g. blood sugar levels are a biomarker for diabetes) ‒ that may one day be a definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

In particular, the ability to look at pictures of the brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) holds a lot of potential. These tests are used today, but mainly to rule out other conditions that may cause symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s. Scientists are also investigating ways to consistently test certain protein levels in a person’s cerebrospinal fluid and blood which could be an indicator of the disease.

Possibly the most exciting advances are in genetic risk profiling. One such profiling tool is a biochip, or a so-called “lab on a chip”, that can analyse genetic material in a person’s blood and accurately detect a risk of Alzheimer’s in just three hours.

As for Teddy, royalties from his single record will help people with Alzheimer’s as well as their families. “We’re incredibly grateful money that raised from this single will be used to fund Alzheimer’s Society services,” says the charity’s Chief Executive Jeremy Hughes. “Teddy’s story shows life doesn’t end when dementia begins, and you can fulfil your dreams even after a dementia diagnosis.”

Simon and Teddy’s videos can be viewed on their YouTube channel, The Songaminute Man.

Photo Source: Twitter