World Alzheimer Awareness Month is here this September, with the purpose of raising awareness of the condition and how it impacts the daily lives of people with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. This article will give you all the information about Alzheimer’s disease you need to know about a form of dementia that affects around 50 million people on the planet.
Alzheimer’s is a brain neurodegenerative disease which causes its shrinking and dying of cells. Unfortunately, once the damage is done it’s not possible to undo. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes progressive worsening in memory, cognitive abilities, and behavioral skills. Almost 60-80% of dementia is Alzheimer’s and the disease got its name from a Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who played a phenomenal role in studying this disease & discovering how it affects the brain.
The brain is the central point of the body where all information is stored in billions of microscopic cells known as neurons. These cells are connected all over the body to transmit and receive information. Neurons cannot perform individually, so one is connected with several others to form a fully functional communication network. Each of these networks or groups have different functionalities. Few are necessary for thinking, some are for learning and others are for remembering. Equally, specific groups serve walking, running, sleeping and the functionality goes on. Inside these brain cells, a fully functional working goes on. They store information, delete it, transmit and do all other functions. This giant network operates perfectly inside the body when the whole system works in coordination. Alzheimer’s disease makes the operation of these cells less effective and at times unable to do their work by disrupting the whole communication network. The exact reason of what exactly causes it is not known, yet unfortunately it is one of the esoteric brain diseases common in humans.
Alzheimer’s consists of three identifiable stages, below are some of the symptoms found on the NHS website. These give some insight on how hard it can be to have Alzheimer’s or be affected as friends and family of someone with the disease. The full list can be found on the NHS website.
In the early stages, the main symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory lapses. For example, someone with early Alzheimer’s disease may:
- forget about recent conversations or events
- misplace items
- forget the names of places and objects
- have trouble thinking of the right word
- ask questions repetitively
As Alzheimer’s disease develops, memory problems will get worse. Someone with the condition may find it increasingly difficult to remember the names of people they know and may struggle to recognise their family and friends. Other symptoms may also develop, such as:
- increasing confusion and disorientation – for example, getting lost, or wandering and not knowing what time of day it is
- obsessive, repetitive or impulsive behaviour
- delusions (believing things that are untrue) or feeling paranoid and suspicious about carers or family members
- problems with speech or language
- disturbed sleep
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms become increasingly severe and can be distressing for the person with the condition, as well as their carers, friends and family. Hallucinations and delusions may come and go over the course of the illness but can get worse as the condition progresses. Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s disease can be violent, demanding and suspicious of those around them. A number of other symptoms may also develop as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, such as:
- difficulty eating and swallowing
- difficulty changing position or moving around without assistance
- weight loss – sometimes severe
Causes and precautionary measures
In the past, researchers believed that the disease is caused by extreme pressure and mental stress. Some doctors were pointing to food or drinking habits as their major cause. However, the majority of researchers and doctors affirm that a healthy lifestyle can help to avoid the risks of some forms of dementia.
An exercising routine and eating healthy foods can aid in keeping the brain functioning at its optimal level. Not all forms of dementia can be avoided but some can be slowed down with medication. When Alzheimer’s is sporadic, it can be linked to aging i.e. it affects about 1% between ages 60-65 and more than 50% of people aging beyond 85%.
It can also be familial, where its cause is linked with inheriting the dominant gene from either parent which speeds up the progression of this type of Alzheimer’s. This type is also known as early-onset Alzheimer’s. However, the intensity of this sort is very minor and accounts for about less than 10% of cases caused by a gene mutation.
There are a range of risk factors that can be considered. Age is the most significant risk factor. Hereditary and genetics also play a small part. Gender wise, women are more affected than men and researchers have concluded that Down Syndrome patients develop this disease easily. Other minor factors are believed to contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s such as air pollution, trauma, alcohol consumption, bad sleeping habits, obesity, smoking, depression, and cognitive impairment.
So how can we support people with Alzheimer’s?
If you know someone with Alzheimer’s, you can ensure they have a clear care plan that takes into account any health conditions they might have that require regular medication. The care plan should also allow for the person with dementia to continue to carry out activities that they are capable of doing. It will also be useful to look for what services can help and support the person affected. This includes care for the person with dementia and support groups for friends and family. Some charities to look into are listed at the end of this article. We may not have a cure for this disease, but we can try to accommodate our world to enable people affected to still live life to their fullest capacity.
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Naomi is a digital marketer and content writer who enjoys writing informative and opinion pieces about social topics mainly to do with inclusion and diversity. Her passions lie in coming up with creative campaigns and using digital means to make positively affect change.