Alzeimer's diseaseSeptember 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or simply Alzheimer’s is one of the most common forms of dementia. Dementia refers to the loss of cognitive ability in a previously unimpaired person. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative form of dementia meaning the patient’s condition worsens as the disease progresses. It’s estimated that it affects over 26 million people around the world and is more prevalent in Western nations. Of course, this is due to a longer lifespan and better methods to diagnose the illness. Here are some things you should know about this ailment:

Spot it early

There’s evidence to suggest that diagnosing the illness early can help provide a better quality of life for patients and even slow down the progression of the illness. However, the problem with diagnosing Alzheimer’s early is that the symptoms are often mistaken for forgetfulness or stress. The early signs of the disease that people need to watch out for are frequent memory loss that disrupts everyday life, challenges in solving everyday problems, difficulty with chores, confusion about time or place, trouble writing and sudden changes in mood and personality.

No known cause

Scientists still haven’t figured exactly what causes the disease but plaques and tangles in the brain look different than regular individuals. As of now, there is no treatment to reverse or stop the disease and the current treatment methods simply focus on treating the symptoms.  The first risk is of course age and the probably of getting the illness doubles every five years after 65. You’re also likelier to suffer from the disease if it runs in your family.

More common than you think 

It’s a disease which is likelier to affect the elderly. While three out of a thousand people in the 65-69 age range are likely to get Alzheimer’s, the prevalence doubles every five years. Over the age of 85 the prevalence is 40% and 69% over 90. There’s also a correlation between cardiovascular illness and the illness.  It’s estimated that around 26.6 million people around the world are living with Alzheimer’s; experts believe that the number could quadruple by 2050 as the average lifespan goes up.

Prevention might be possible

A lot of research has shown a correlation between the illness and lifestyle choices. People, who live a healthy lifestyle, exercise more, eat healthy, avoid smoking, are socially active and engage in stimulating mental activities like playing chess are less likely to get Alzheimer’s. 

 Caregiver’s burden

As we’ve mentioned before, there’s no cure for the illness and the only medications available treat the symptoms of the disease.  This places a huge burden on the caregivers since many patients are incapable of taking care of their basic needs. They have trouble doing simple things like eating, opening locks, going to the bathroom and other everyday chores. This can lead to oral health issues, malnutrition, hygiene problems, and skin or eye infections. The majority of costs in treating Alzheimer’s patients goes towards providing them a proper dignified lifestyle and is one of the major issues that need to be addressed.

Treatment options

Treatment for Alzheimer’s involves some medicines which look to treat the symptoms of the illness and no drug has been found to halt or reverse this degenerative disease. On the other hand there are many psycho-social interventions for patients but they are for all forms of dementia and not specifically for Alzheimer’s. There are interventions which involve reminiscence therapy (discussion of past experiences to jog a patient’s memory), simulated presence therapy (playing a recording of voices of the closest relatives to reduce challenging behaviour) and validation theory which is based on accepting the reality about dementia and moving past it to get better. There is however, no evidence to support the efficacy of these therapies. That being said, many caregivers believe it does improve the quality of a patient’s life.

Alzheimer’s disease is set to become a major public health problem in the coming years as people live longer and we need to work on public health solutions to lessen the damage. Also there’s a lot of ongoing research to treat the disease and we might have a cure for it as well. What we as a society can do is focus on the importance of treating mental illness as seriously as physical ailments like cancer or heart disease with comes age so that everyone, including the aged can live a live full of dignity. 

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of dementia.

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