Alzheimer disease is the most common type of dementia. Dementia is a set of symptoms such as memory loss, difficulties with thinking and changes in behaviour that is progressive (continues to worsen if not treated). These symptoms are due to changes in the brain due to disease conditions that damage brain tissues. Globally, around 50 million people are living with dementia. A disease course may last from 2 to 20 years.
WHAT CAUSES ALZHEIMER DISEASE?
The brain is made of billions of nerves cells that are connected and to other nerves cells throughout the body in a complex arrangement. In Alzheimer disease, the connections within the brain are lost because of blockages caused by proteins in the brain. This causes nerves cells to die and brain tissue is lost.
The chemicals in the brain responsible for sending signals between cells are also reduced in Alzheimer disease. The reason for the formation of these protein plaques or reduction in the chemicals is not known yet but some factors may increase the possibility of the formation of these protein plaques and the development of Alzheimer disease. These factors include:
- Age: People older than 65 are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer disease but is also seen in people in their 30s or 40s – around ten per cent of all people affected by Alzheimer disease. This is called early-onset dementia
- Previous brain injury or trauma
- Family history: If a relative develops Alzheimer disease, your chances of developing it at some point are increased
- Untreated depression
- Chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes and infectious disease.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS SEEN IN ALZHEIMER DISEASE?
Affected persons have difficulties with memory, thinking, learning, reason, make judgments and carry on their daily activities. The disease often begins with subtle memory loss (forgetfulness) and personality changes. For example, they may be confused and lost when they travel to a familiar place via a new route.
Typically, Alzheimer disease worsens over time as more brain tissue is lost. More and more symptoms develop and the quality of life is hampered as such. Other symptoms that may be seen are:
- As the disease worsens, they also suffer a greater loss of memory and problems with decision making.
- They also have difficulties in social circles and may become increasingly isolated.
- Difficulty in understanding language and with familiar tasks.
- Unstable mood
- Difficulty with precise motions like knitting and driving
- Irritability, anxiety and anger spells
- Confusion with time, place and judging shapes and sizes
- Loss of ability to learn new information
These symptoms may be present in varying degrees in other disease conditions. As such, a diagnosis of Alzheimer disease can only be made by a physician after a complete assessment. A series of tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. Some of these tests are specially crafted to see the protein plaques in the brain.
Alzheimer disease is irreversible but there are medications and supportive therapies to help improve symptoms and the overall quality of life in affected people. There are medications available to help slow down the progression of the disease.
PREVENTIVE TIPS FOR ALZHEIMER DISEASE
There is no single effective way to prevent Alzheimer disease because a particular cause for the condition has not been found. However, the following are measures that are thought to reduce the overall risk of developing Alzheimer disease.
- Limit saturated fats and carbohydrates in your diet. Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. This is thought to improve your overall health and reduce the possibility of developing Alzheimer disease.
- Engage in meaningful social interactions with family and friends. Alzheimer disease has been noted to develop more rapidly in people living solitary lives. Regular social interaction stimulates brain activity and reduces your chances of developing Alzheimer disease
- Mental and physical exercise: engaging in tasking mental exercises such as puzzles and board games helps you stay sharp and is beneficial to your health. Physical exercise of around 30 minutes daily or 150 minutes weekly not only helps you stay fit but is thought to reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer disease
- Quit smoking and cut down on alcohol
- Manage lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes effectively by taking medication as prescribed
- Wear protective gear at work.
- Get enough sleep every day