KOCHI: For the past ten years, Alzheimer’s Day has been celebrated on September 21 to create awareness among the public about the disease. This year’s theme is ‘Never too early, never too late’. It means identifying the risk factors triggering the disease and taking preventive measures accordingly.
Brain cells which save our memories are located in the temporal lobe. The destruction of these cells results in dementia, a condition that 50 million people worldwide are suffering from. In India, the number is close to 4 million. The cause may be ageing, lack of thyroid hormone, damage to the brain, stroke, lack of vitamins such as vitamin B12 and thiamine, various infections affecting the brain and brain tumours. The most significant one is the destruction of memory cells due to ageing which leads to Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Stages of Alzheimer’s
It is common for people over 65 years of age to have difficulty recollecting things. But with the progress of AD, it almost becomes impossible. Forgetting the names of distant acquaintances and difficulty getting words in between conversations can be said to be the initial stage of this disease. This lasts for two to three years. Memory loss gradually gets severe in the second stage. This stage leads to situations such as even the name of family members being forgotten.
They find it difficult to engage in meaningful conversations and are confined to their world as much as possible. Patients can become suspicious of people around them and may think they might harm them. This makes it difficult to take care of the patients. At the same time, the sense of direction will also be lost. They find it difficult to travel outside on their own. They lack attention to personal hygiene. The second phase lasts from eight to ten years.
During the third stage, the patient will lose memory completely and they can even forget their existence. Gradually they lose mobility and become bedridden. Loss of appetite, malnutrition and weight loss will also become evident in this stage. It affects the immune system and increases the frequency of infections then leads to death.
AD is not completely curable. However, early diagnosis can reduce the severity. Diagnosis is mainly based on symptoms and memory-based questionnaires. Blood tests, CT or MRI scans of the brain must be done to confirm that there is no other reason for dementia.
If you are diagnosed with AD, you should take medication as prescribed by your doctor to boost your memory along with physical exercise and a nutritious diet. Recreational activities help reduce stress and games such as crossword puzzles and chess help improve memory.
Caretakers should be aware of the specifics of the disease and how to deal with it. Frequent changes in caregivers and living space can make it difficult for patients. Depression and infection in a patient should also be identified and treated.
One promising advance in the treatment of AD is the development of a vaccine that helps prevent the deposition of amyloid particles in the brain, which is believed to play a major role in the development of the disease.
Mind and Body
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The writer is a consultant neurologist at SUT Hospital, Pattom