Don’t ignore the loss of memory or cognitive abilities as an effect of aging, it can be an early sign of dementia or even Alzheimer’s. As clinical evidence suggests, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is nearly over 10% in senior citizens over the age of 65 years. However, due to low awareness about the advantages of early detection and treatment, majority of the patients seek medical care only in advanced stages of the disease.
World Alzheimer’s Day (WAD) is observed on September 21 every year to highlight the importance of talking about dementia and associated diseases. The theme for WAD 2020 is Dementia Friends—an initiative to unite those who are affected by dementia, eradicate their feeling of isolation, and start a positive discussion around the impact of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia which causes gradual wasting and death of the brain cells. The physiological changes are followed by a decline in memory, cognitive abilities, thinking, behavior, social skills that eventually don’t allow the person to function independently.
How it starts:
The key symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease is memory loss. Early symptoms include difficulty in remembering events or conversations. As the memory fades, occasional memory lapses like forgetting key or losing track of your location are very common.
Alzheimer’s Disease is associated with memory loss that worsens with time and is persistent, thereby affecting the ability of the individual to function normally. The patient tends to repeat statements, again and again, forgets recent events, appointments, conversations, etc., may get lost in familiar places, forget names of family members, relatives, everyday objects, or have trouble finding the right words for identifying people, objects or any other thoughts.
Even the decision-making capacity of the Alzheimer affected individual diminishes each day. e.g. The person may not realize that their choice of clothes does not match the social requirement or may be inappropriate for the weather. Thus, making the person extremely self-conscious and aloof, forcing him to automatically sever social ties.
What causes it:
Though the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is yet unknown, there are several risk factors associated with the disease, age being the most common. Having a family history of the disease, automatically makes you vulnerable.
Though the genetic mechanism behind Alzheimer’s cannot be explained, the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells, forming plaques, is thought to be responsible for the disease. Moreover, a sedentary lifestyle, bad sleeping patterns, lack of a proper diet, or exercise are known risk factors.
How to prevent:
Although this disease cannot be prevented, the onset can be prolonged. Eat a good diet full of fresh produce, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and exercise regularly to reduce the risk of developing this disease. Focus on managing your blood pressure, diabetes, heart health to improve your overall health. Participating in social events, dancing, reading, playing board games, painting, drawing, learning a new language or to play an instrument and any other activity that requires mental and social engagement will keep you motivated and thus help reduce the risk.
Due to its complex nature, Alzheimer’s is treatable but incurable. At present, the medication is available to contain the disease progression, improve symptoms and quality of the life for both patient and the caretaker.
Alzheimer’s patients experience a mix of emotions such as confusion, frustration, anger, fear, uncertainty, grief, and depression. Thus, it is integral to create a peaceful home environment around them. Sudden get-togethers, large groups, new incidents, loud noises, or asking them to perform complicated tasks can distress the patients and further worsen their cognitive functions.
Help the patients to cope with the disease by listening and reassuring them. Though none of the medicines stop the disease, they slow down memory loss and behavioural degradation. Improvement in the symptoms offers some comfort, dignity, confidence, and independence to the patients for a longer period.
(Disclaimer: The author is Dr Pradyumna Oak, Director & Head Neurology, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)