DEMYSTIFYING ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

It’s common for one to forget a couple of things once in a while. Maybe you had planned to pick some groceries at the store after work but you forgot. Or maybe planned to call a friend and you forgot. Or even perhaps you asked for directions to a certain place just minutes ago and now you can’t recall. It’s normal, nothing worth raising an alarm. We are not machines anyway, programmed to remember each and every detail we come across. But what if you realize that you’re having unusual difficulty remembering things and organizing your thoughts? Or you may not recognize that anything is wrong, even when changes are noticeable to your family members, close friends or co-workers?

Alzheimer’s disease back in the days was seen as a case of dementia. Dementia then was linked to old age, since it was assumed lose of memory was common especially for those above 65 years of age. But German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer was already on the case, trying to figure what exactly was going on. How the disease was referred to in his name is a story for another day.

It is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that progresses with time, becoming worse. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not yet fully understood by scientists. But from the numerous clinical findings and research were done, the causes probably include some combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. The importance of any one of these factors in increasing or decreasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s may differ from person to person.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by lose of neurons and synapses in the cerebral cortex and certain subcortical regions (parts of the brain). It damages and kills brain cells. A brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease has many fewer cells and many fewer connections among surviving cells than does a healthy brain.

As more and more brain cells die, Alzheimer’s leads to significant brain shrinkage

This explains the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It persists and worsens, affecting one’s ability to function at work and at home.

Signs and symptoms

Despite the causes and cure of Alzheimer’s disease still baffling medical practitioners and researchers, its diagnosis is evident, depending on the person with the disease.

Some of the common signs and symptoms include;

  • Occasional memory lapses
  • Difficulty in planning and performing routine tasks
  • Difficulty in concentrating and thinking.
  • Difficulty in making judgmental calls. For instance, when food is burning in the stove, it becomes difficult to respond to such a situation
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability and aggressiveness

As the disease advances, symptoms can include problems with language, disorientation (including easily getting lost), mood swings, loss of motivation, not managing self-care, and other behavioral issues. As a person’s condition declines, they often withdraw from family and society. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death. Although the speed of progression can vary, the average life expectancy following diagnosis is approximated to around three to nine years.

Worrying statistics

Alzheimer’s disease is currently ranked as the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. It is approximated that one in three people die of Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, more than 5.4 million U.S citizens are living with it, of which 5.2 million are aged 65 years and above. 1 in every 9 persons above 65 years is said to be suffering from the disease. All these statistics predict that in the mid-century every 33 seconds that passes, someone is likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Pegging the question, do age-related changes in the brain play a role in causing this killer disease?

What is even more shocking is that, among the top 10 diseases in America that lead to death, Alzheimer’s disease is the only one that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

In terms of the mortality rate of this disease, Among people aged 70, 61% of them with Alzheimer’s are expected to die before the age of 80 compared with 30 percent of people without Alzheimer’s — a rate twice as high. Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased significantly — 71 percent. In 2013, over 84,000 Americans died from Alzheimer’s according to official death certificates; however, in 2016, an estimated 700,000 people with Alzheimer’s will die, and the disease is likely to contribute to many of these deaths.

 

Easing the pressure on people with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Exercise programs are recommended with respect to activities of daily living and can potentially improve outcomes.
  • Treatment of behavioral problems or psychosis due to dementia with antipsychotics is commonly used to try and contain the situation. They help relax them in the event of anxiety or depression.
  • Maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle can generally be plus to the elderly although it may not directly improve the conditions. Adopting a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity, maintaining a manageable weight and avoiding smoking may play some part in increasing their lifespan

Affected people increasingly rely on others for assistance, often placing a burden on the caregivers; the pressures can include social, psychological, physical, and economic elements. In 2015, 15.9 million family and friends provided 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. That care had an estimated economic value of $221.3 billion. Alzheimer’s takes a devastating toll on caregivers. Nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; about 40 percent suffer from depression.

Medical alert systems have in some way proved to be worth the talk and publicity it has gained. Alzheimer’s disease patients require plenty of care, support and supervision. We have seen how stressful it is for caregivers, with statistics showing the moral, social and financial burden the caregivers and immediate family have to bear with. Medical alert systems try to ease the burden for them. It is cheaper and easier to use. They come with a push button fitted either as a wristband or as a neck pendant. A press of this button automatically engages a direct call to the service provider call support. This way in the event of any emergency whatsoever, the caregiver or the victim himself can call for help. That easy

As researchers continue unraveling Alzheimer’s disease, we remain positive that a cure will soon be discovered and relieve people the burden of this disease.

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