Ignorance about the facts of the
disease wreaks havoc in the lives of patients and their families. Most often,
family members dismiss the initial symptoms as a natural part of ageing.
Patients are brought to a specialist only after the patient's health has
Awareness about the symptoms and
risk factors of Alzheimer's disease is crucial in seeking timely medical help
for the patients. The focus of initiatives this year, shifts on the importance
of diagnosing the disease early, which is the only way to control some of its
life-altering symptoms and impede the progression of the disease to a certain
The Silent Killer
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a
complex brain disorder which takes its name after the German physician, Alois
Alzheimer, who first identified the disease in 1907. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia affecting
people over the age of 60.
During the initial stages of the
disease, parts of the brain which control thought, memory and language take a
beating. The symptoms could manifest as difficulties with concentration, memory
problems, confusion, mood swings, alterations in personality, and difficulty in
language. As the disease progresses, patients are unable to perform day to day
tasks. They become entirely dependant on their families or caregivers.
Unfortunately, the disease has no
cure. However, there are drugs which can control the symptoms for a certain
time period and delay the progression of the disease, provided the treatment
is started in the initial stages.
Statistics on Alzheimer's Disease
• Alzheimer's disease is
the most common form of dementia. Risk Factors
• About 26 million people
worldwide suffer from Alzheimer's disease. The figure is expected to grow to
106 million by 2050.
• By 2010, India will have
around 10 million people suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
• Each year about 350,000
fresh cases of Alzheimer's disease are diagnosed.
• The disease most
commonly strikes after the age of 60 and the risk is higher as people catch up
with age. It is a rare occurrence among
the younger lot.
• Hereditary factors contribute to 5% of the cases.
Early-onset Alzheimer's disease can strike anywhere between 30-60 years.
• Nearly 70% of
Alzheimer's sufferers are cared by their family members at home.
happens to be the greatest risk factor for developing this disease.
Majority of the cases are late-onset Alzheimer's, developing over the age
Alzheimer's disease (FAD)
is relatively rare affecting about 5 percent
of patients. Familial Alzheimer's disease manifests early during the 30's
and offspring of such people carry a 50% chance of developing the disease.
• Is there a link between Type 2 Diabetes
and Alzheimer's disease? Scientists opine that
when the body is unable to convert blood sugar into energy effectively,
this results in elevated levels of insulin and blood sugar. This condition
may harm the brain and enhance the risk of Alzheimer's.
• It is well known that high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels
risk of cardiovascular disease. Now, researchers feel that High BP and
cholesterol can also increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease. High blood
pressure weakens certain areas in the brain dealing with memory, language
and thought process which may trigger the onset of Alzheimer's. Further,
when cholesterol levels are high, they could cause protein retention in
the brain, and enhance the risk of Alzheimer's. Symptoms & Stages of Alzheimer's Disease Initial symptoms
of Alzheimer's disease could manifest as
difficulties with concentration, memory problems, confusion, mood swings,
alterations in personality, and difficulty in language. The initial symptoms
are very mild and may often go unnoticed. Even the patients may not make too
much of these symptoms.
The progression of the disease
can be categorized into three stages
although the severity of
symptoms could differ among patients.
During the first stage
, symptoms are mild, lasting anywhere from 2 to 4
years. During this stage patients may
feel less energetic, slow to respond and may exhibit slight loss of memory.
They could tend to be withdrawn and may prefer the familiar over new things.
They portray some amount of confusion in organizing day to day tasks. They are
unable to plan well or take decisions. They may also exhibit minor changes in personality and mood.
During the second stage
which can last anywhere from 2 to 10 years, the
patient exhibits obvious signs of disability. Though they are still capable of
performing simple tasks, they need help with the difficult ones. Some of them may even need help with
dressing, grooming and eating. They are disconnected with reality and often
seem confused with the present and the past. Essentially, they are unable to
grasp present events. They may not be able to recognize familiar faces.
It is not safe to leave patients
alone at this stage, as they could get lost somewhere and forget how to get
back home. They may have trouble falling asleep, may exhibit disturbed and
The last stage
is very severe and may last anywhere from 1 to 3 years.
The patients have no control over their bodily functions; they may have trouble
swallowing food, and will have no control over their bowel or bladder. Patients
become entirely dependant on their care-givers. They may sleep more than usual.
They could also contract other illnesses during this time, as they are already
weak and their movement is restricted. Many such patients fall prey to
respiratory illnesses. Diagnosis
is made after a thorough physical examination,
neuropsychological tests and laboratory tests. Physicians study the history of
mental and behavioral symptoms to diagnose the disease. Post diagnoses,
patients suffering from this disease go on to live for about 8-10 years and in rare
cases may even live for 20 years.
Consult your Doctor without delay
If you know of someone exhibiting
the symptoms mentioned, it could be a sign of Alzheimer's disease. It is
important to consult the physician especially if the symptoms have begun to
interfere with normal life.
A physician who has rich experience and knowledge in
memory problems and dementia will be equipped to make a correct diagnosis after
a thorough investigation. With timely medication, it is possible to retard the
advancement of the disease and slow cognitive decline. Early screening and diagnosis is crucial as
most medications are effective only during the early stages of the disease.