Alzheimer’s disease

If you have old parents at home who’re having multiple cognitive difficulties – it’s a good idea to sift through this piece.

Alzheimer's disease

Remember Kajol’s character in U Me aur Hum, or at least Big B’s character in the blockbuster film, Black? Both these films were Bollywood’s attempt at depicting Alzheimer’s — as their protagonists battled the disease.

 

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia (loss of brain function) that causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. The symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Most patients develop Alzheimer’s disease past 60; however, a small percentage might develop the disease in their 40s and 50s. At least half of these early-onset patients have inherited gene mutations associated with the disease.

Who is at risk of getting Alzheimer’s?

Age is the prime risk factor associated with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the greatest mysteries of the disease is why the risk increases dramatically with age. Family history is also a risk factor; especially younger-onset of the disease is attributed to inherited gene mutations. Some other factors that can put one at risk include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and possibly elevated blood cholesterol. Studies show that individuals who have completed less than eight years of education also have an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Warning signs of Alzheimer’s:

  • Memory loss
  • Loss of initiative
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems with language
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Misplacing things
  • Poor judgement
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Changes in mood or behaviour
  • Changes in personality

Wait! Do not jump to any conclusion yet. It is normal for certain kind of memory to decline with age. And, everyone forgets – you wouldn’t freak out if a 20-year-old forgot something he/she knew once, right? But be alarmed, if a loved one is exhibiting several of these symptoms. Take him/her to the doctor, the doctor’s evaluation will include a series of cognitive, genetic and other tests to ascertain whether or not one has Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s, the slow collapse…

A person who reaches the full-blown stage has no or very less speech and loses the ability to perform even the simplest of tasks, becomes bed-ridden overtime and will be completely dependent on the caregiver. Besides these cognitive issues, this disease is associated with some psychiatric concerns like depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and hallucinations. Once diagnosed with the disease, a person usually lives up to seven years – in some cases up to fourteen years.

Treating Alzheimer’s:

Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and further research continues. Though the current Alzheimer’s treatment can’t stop the progression of the disease, it can slow down the dementia symptoms and improve the quality of life for those afflicted and their caregivers. Apart from prescribed drugs, doctors advise emotion-based intervention, behaviour modification, increase in social interaction opportunities and inclusion of daily activities like walking, dancing and singing. Cognitive rehabilitation such as memory training also forms the core of the treatment.

How to prevent Alzheimer’s

Studies suggest that a healthy lifestyle can prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. So, make those lifestyle changes that you have been postponing. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, be socially active and keep your neurons on their toes by giving that mighty brain of yours constant stimulation.

Reviewed by Dr Abha Bhang, Psychiatrist

Photograph by Indu Anthony