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Finding early indicators of dementia is the primary focus for a group of neurobiologists at the University of California.

One goal is to locate disease-related brain plaque accumulation before symptoms can be observed in older adults.

Researchers are using sophisticated methods such as brain imaging technology to understand the inner workings of Alzheimer’s disease to detect onset before symptoms — like memory loss — are demonstrated. Over the next five years or so, scientists hope to pinpoint factors leading to cognitive decline in the presence and absence of the hallmark brain plaques associated with the disease.

The project is vitally important from multiple standpoints. It can impact the projected $50 trillion in Medicare costs associated with the care of Baby Boomers who may develop the illness. Perhaps the most exciting prospect is the work can open the doors to preventive treatment and increase quality of life for patients while reducing the burden caregiving puts on families.

The burden of caring for a loved one with dementia can be immense from a physical and emotional standpoint. In particular, those who are not “dementia-aware,” will have a much more difficult time than those who are equipped with the necessary skills and perspective to tackle the complexities of caregiving.

My nationally recognized training program focuses on compassionate care and allows the caregiver and patient to connect in meaningful ways. It is also designed to improve quality of life. Specifically, my methods allow families and professional caregivers to customize care to create a dementia-aware environment. Once they become accustomed to this approach, families and caregivers begin to build strong bonds and connect on a level they didn’t believe was possible again.

I’m hopeful for medical advancement in this field, one that will allow families to combat and undo the effects of this unforgiving disease. As we look toward the future, this is our hope. What we must also understand, however, is that hope is all around us right now — and it begins with approaching this illness with compassion, love and a new perspective.

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