The Alzheimer Society of P.E.I. says up to half of Canadians with dementia wait too long to get diagnosed, but technological advances could make early detection easier.

At a conference Thursday, researchers spoke about how early detection can make a big difference, especially with recent advances in medicine.

“To the nations of the world, if you don't do something about dementia it's going to bankrupt you,” said Dr. Sultan Darvesh quoting the World Health Organization.

Darvesh, who works at Dalhousie University, is one of the Maritimes' top researchers specializing in geriatric medicine research. He said early detection is the key to treatment.

Jacintha Stewart agrees. Her father has the disease.

“Early diagnosis was so important. We had an opportunity to start the medication and he received the medication very well. Three years later we've seen some cognitive decline. Sometimes you feel a little bit cheated for your loved one,” she said.

Right now, most Alzheimer's diagnoses are based on symptoms such as forgetfulness, changes in behaviour and loss of speech.

Darvesh told the conference new advancements in technology could dramatically change how those diagnoses work.

“Scanning methods to be able to diagnose definitively Alzheimer's disease during life and to diagnose Alzheimer's disease early,” he said.

Darvesh said researchers need to know someone has Alzheimer's before they can test possible cures.

“Hopeful very, very — it was wonderful this morning to actually see what happens to the brain and to see what could possibly happen in the future,” said caregiver Janet Clement.

Early detection, while important, is not always easy. Research is promising, but no cure currently exists.

That makes diagnosis extremely difficult for many affected, and their loved ones.

“There's a lot of terror, there's a lot of anger, there's a lot of frustration, there's a lot of unknown. At least with a journey there's a destination. With dementia the destination is very, very frightening to the person going through the process,” said caregiver John Flood.

“Failure is just not an option, we have to keep going at it until we get it right,” said Darvesh.

Darvesh and a team of researchers are working at Dalhousie University to make brain scan testing for Alzheimer's a reality in the near future.