Alzheimer’s disease, also known as senile dementia is a degenerative disorder which was first discovered in 1906 by a neuropathologist called Alois Alzheimer. It is one of the most prevalent diseases causing acute memory loss and primary dementia.
Statistics have revealed that 1 in 90 people are affected by this disease and despite it being backed by considerable research there is no known cure for the disease. The course and the onset of the disease varies from person to person. It remains undiagnosed for a lot of people as it manifests itself with the normal processes of aging. It is exhibited with the loss of short term memory. Most people find it difficult to remember recent events, names, tasks etc.
Progress Of The Disease
The disease is markedly degenerative leading to acute confusion, bouts of anger, language distortions and social ineptitude. Apathy is observed in people who have advanced considerably into the disease as there is a loss of sensory perception. The duration of the disease varies from person to person. An average life expectancy of 7-10 years is observed in people suffering from the disease. Severely affected people lose all capacities of self care, bladder control and coherence of speech. Many patients have to be institutionalized or hospitalized. Bodily functions decline leading to organ failure and death.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease
Since the disease is not completely understood, baffling scientists with its insidious onset, there is no sure shot treatment strategy. Therapeutic intervention gives little relief to halt or delay the onset of the disease. Changes in lifestyles of elderly people are often recommended. Elderly people are asked to seek suitable employment avenues to keep themselves mentally stimulated. Exercise and a balanced diet are also recommended.
As the disease advances patient management takes precedence. The primary caregiver is the spouse or a close blood relative. Management is tough, prolonged involving a 360 degree shift in the life of the primary caregiver as various social, economic and physical aspects of his/her life get affected. The disease is known to mount a considerable economic drain to families of patients.
Stages of Dementia
The disease is divided into a number of stages based on its severity.
The initial symptoms are normally attributed to general forgetfulness or stress as the person forgets to do simple things or finds it difficult to acquire new information. People in the early stages have short attention spans and find it difficult to plan and execute. A general apathy is observed in day to day activities. Differential diagnosis at this stage is mild cognitive impairment
Once cognitive impairment heightens, a more accurate diagnosis is formed. Cognitive impairment becomes more severe as people find it difficult to communicate, lack sensory perception and seem to have a total or partial memory loss for old events. Language difficulties include lesser fluency, depleted vocabulary and poor verbal and written expression. Writing and self care like bathing, dressing become herculean. At this stage people need guidance and supervision.
With further deterioration independence, writing and reading skills are lost. Patients become uncoordinated in their movements and this increases their risk of falls. Recognition of familiar faces is lost.
People are seen to wander aimlessly, lose themselves on the street and become extremely delusional. Long term memory also gets affected. Mood swings and aggression become common. The patient now needs to be confined to the house under the care of a care giver.
Here the patient becomes completely bedridden losing all his abilities at basic self care. Language abilities are completely lost and the patient may not be able to give even basic instructions or utter simple sentences. Muscle mass and mobility completely deteriorates and the person gets exhausted. Bed sores and ulcers become common. Over a period of time the patient loses his bodily functions and dies.
Causes of Alzheimer’s disease
Some theories have postulated that Alzheimer’s is caused by a reduction in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and Neuro-Inflammation. Chromosomal defects like Down’s syndrome cause people to develop the disease by the age of 40. Certain Tau protein abnormalities also promote the onset of the disease. Neuro fibrillary tangles are formed inside nerve cell bodies. This may affect the way in which neurons transmit information. Age related Myelin breakdown is also seen in the brain
Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
It is said that intellectual stimulation is a must for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Games like scrabble and chess and adequate social interaction act as memory boosters and help retain a keen, sharp and active mind. A balanced diet and cardio vascular workouts that increase supply of oxygen to the brain also help in preventing Alzheimer’s. Diet and exercise here play a crucial role as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol are know to be associated with an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s.
Specific diets high in cereals, olive oils, fish, red wine and whole wheat breads also prevent its occurrence. Certain spices like turmeric and cumin are also shown to be brain boosting foods. Women have shown a lower risk of the disease as they are seen to engage in reading, music and solving crossword puzzles all of which are brain stimulating activities. They are also more prolific social networkers vis a vis men. You may also decide to learn a new language in order to protect yourself from the disease.
Alzheimer’s has no cure and it leaves people terribly incapacitated, not being able to tend to their own needs. Hence the quality of care giving acquires significance. Efforts should be made to provide quality care at the same time ensuring patient safety. In the advanced stage of the disease it is advisable to put safety locks in the house, and label objects and things within the patient’s reach.
This facilitates ease in remembering. Swallowing difficulties may require the use of feeding tubes to prevent choking. Hygiene and sanitation become top priority as the patient becomes vulnerable to several diseases and infections like bed sores and eye infections. In the final stages the main aim is to alleviate any pain or discomfort so as to help them towards a peaceful death.
In the end, the quality of care giving goes a long way in reducing the suffering of these patients and the care givers are less likely to be at the receiving end of aggressive treatment. As a nation we all can contribute and provide a quality lifestyle to the elderly taking into consideration their employability, health and risk factors.