India’s ever-growing elderly population are staring at a crisis. More than 1.5 million of them are suffering from neurological disorders i.e Alzheimer’s disease. An Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative ailment of the brain which affects the memory, behaviour and thinking. The magnitude of the crisis is amplified due to the fact that till date, no definite cure or a remedy to prevent the occurrence of this disease has been found, although some medications have been observed to slow down its progress temporarily. Therefore, an early and effective diagnosis is the best solution we have at present to stave off this debilitating disease.
September marks the World Alzheimer’s Month, and September 21 is the World Alzheimer’s Day. The theme for the year 2017 is ‘Remember Me’. On this occasion, let us know all we need to about Alzheimer’s, for a greater awareness can help us combat the disease effectively.
Read & Know what is Alzheimer’s, their symptoms, Risk factors and the treatment for Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a condition of the mind where a person exhibits varying degrees of memory loss and other cognitive disabilities which affects his/her daily routine.
Although most people conflate Alzheimer’s with a mere loss of memory, it has far more wide-ranging effects including behavioural changes, confusion, disorientation, delusions, hallucinations, difficulties in communication and judging speeds and distances, etc.
Though it usually occurs in the old age, it is not a part of the normal ageing process, as in some cases Alzheimer’s symptoms can start appearing at the young age of 30.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease where the symptoms of dementia gradually worsen over time. The presence of Alzheimer’s i.e a neurological disorder further complicates the management of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart ailments etc.
It is a global health issue, affecting millions of people worldwide.
The silver lining is that people affected by dementia can still lead an active lifestyle by developing support mechanisms in order to cope with the condition. This includes socialising, taking up a hobby etc.
In general, women are more likely to be affected by Alzheimer’s than men.
Now that we have acquainted ourselves with the basic facts about this ailment, let us have a look at some of the warning signs and Alzheimer’s symptoms.
- A noticeable decline in the cognitive and behavioural functions and abilities of an individual.
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life: An individual might keep forgetting recently learned information, ask for the same details again and again, or might need to increasingly rely on memory aids such as reminder notes.
- Difficulty and inability to perform regular tasks at home such as cooking, driving etc.
- Difficulty in planning or solving problems such as calculating the monthly bills or with simpler tasks like following a recipe.
- People with Alzheimer’s can get confused with the time or place, and not remember where they are or how and when they got there.
- Impaired judgment: With the onset of Alzheimer’s, people may suddenly start taking irresponsible and silly decisions, such as dressing inappropriately or using a vulgar language which is a marked departure from their previous behaviour.
- Problems with vision: People might find it harder to read the words in a book or have trouble judging distances.
- Vocabulary impairment: Finding the right words and carrying out conversations seem very tough.
- Restlessness, agitation, anxiety, tearfulness or aimless wandering.
- Misplacing things: Frequently misplacing things, for example, car keys, remote control etc. is a strong indicator of dementia.
- Mood swings and change in personality: People with Alzheimer’s may become easily upset at home or the workplace, and become easily suspicious, confused, depressed, fearful etc.
- Withdrawing from work and social activities: A person may become detached and quit any hobbies, socialising, sports, work etc. They gradually become introverts.
The factors that are shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s are:
- Age: It is more likely to occur in older people, i.e. individuals aged 65 and above.
- Family History: If a family member (parents, siblings etc.) are suffering from Alzheimer’s, there is an increased risk of a person developing this disease.
- Genetics: The presence of certain genes such as the APOE gene (apolipoprotein E) increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. There are different forms of the APOE gene such as APOE-e2, APOE-e3 and APOE-e4. Of these, the APOE-e4 has been identified as the one with the strongest impact.
- Gender: Females are at a greater risk of getting affected by this disease.
- Sleep Disorders: Ailments like sleep apnea and other breathing problems can cause Alzheimer’s if left untreated.
- Other health factors: Conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol levels, hypertension etc. can increase the risk of dementia.
There are mainly two strategies which are followed in the treatment or management of Alzheimer’s:
- Non-drug strategy and Medication.
- Socialising: A positive relationship with family and friends can help reduce the risk of developing dementia and contribute to the overall well-being of the individual.
- Stay Active: Regular exercising boosts glucose metabolism and enhances the blood flow to the brain, which decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Be health conscious: Maintaining a healthy weight, following a healthy diet plan with plenty of proteins in the form of fish, beans, legumes etc. and healthy fats like nuts and including foods which help in preventing cognitive decline such as berries are beneficial. One must also keep an eye on other factors such as blood pressure and sugar levels, cholesterol levels etc.
- Indulging in activities which require mental efforts such as solving puzzles, crosswords etc. can keep a person mentally fit and alert.
- Medications can help curb the breakdown of a chemical known as acetylcholine in the brain which slows down the worsening of symptoms, albeit temporarily. The different drugs available which can help lessen the symptoms are donepezil (Aricept), galatamine (Razadyne), rivastigmine (Exelon) etc. But, taking drugs may cause certain side-effects including diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, insomnia, fatigue, loss of activity, weight loss etc.
Myths and Facts about Alzheimer’s neurological disorder:
|Alzheimer’s occurs only in older people||While it is true that most incidences occur in people above the age of 65, it can strike younger people their 40s and 50s too. This is called early-onset Alzheimer’s. The danger is that such cases often go unreported and undetected for a long time. But, it is possible to differentiate between these symptoms and the general signs of ageing.|
|Having an active lifestyle can prevent Alzheimer’s disease||Exercise, healthy diet and mental activities do lower the risk of getting Alzheimer’s, but there is no scientific evidence to establish a clear link between the two. In other words, a healthy lifestyle and lesser risk of getting Alzheimer’s may be correlated to each other, but it is not clear if a lifestyle is driving that link (causation)|
|Alzheimer’s is not fatal||On the contrary, it is one of the common causes of death. It can cause death due to lung infections or lack of nutrition.|
|Alzheimer’s symptoms are a normal part of ageing||Some memory loss may be a normal part of ageing, but symptoms such as disorientation or frequent forgetfulness are not.|
|Dementia and Alzheimer’s are one and the same||Dementia is an overall term used to describe memory loss due to changes in the brain. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.|
|Early detection of Alzheimer’s is not possible.||Actually, most fatalities due to Alzheimer’s occur because they weren’t diagnosed and detected in the early stages. And, as with any other disease, if left unchecked, the condition can worsen and lead to several other complications and maybe even death.|
|Alzheimer’s is entirely genetic||The APOE-e4 gene which has been identified as having the strongest impact is just one of the several genes linked to Alzheimer’s. Genetics is not the only cause of this disease.|
|Alzheimer’s is caused by aluminium, silver fillings etc.||There is no scientific evidence to back the claim that cooking in aluminium pans or drinking from aluminium cans causes Alzheimer’s.|