Understanding and dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease

While there is no definite way to prevent Alzheimer's Disease, here are a few precautions you can take to minimise the risk

Senior man siffering from Alzheimer's Disease

Dementia is a group of diseases of the brain where there is loss of various mental functions; Alzheimer’s disease [AD] is the most common cause of dementia. The most common symptoms of AD are forgetfulness followed by language disturbance, impaired judgment, disorientation and a loss of decision making abilities or planning skills. AD progresses slowly over several [5 to 10] years.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease starts as simple forgetfulness, which is normal in the ageing process. It is when people repeatedly forget names, misplace things and forget recent incidences that it becomes a matter of concern.

Mild cognitive impairment

In the early stages the person is not able to learn new skills like a recipe. They may not be able to negotiate a new route while driving or perform a challenging task at work. There may also be a change in their personality. The person becomes depressed, apathetic or quite the opposite; they become excitable with irritability and agitation.

Mild AD

In this stage, a person is unable to handle bank affairs, shop independently or plan a dinner for friends. But they can carry out daily activities like bathe and dress. As AD progresses, the forgetfulness worsens. They may not get the right words for things, people or places. They may misplace things frequently and keep household items in odd places. They could, for example, keep shoes in the fridge instead of the shoe rack.

Moderate AD

The person forgets recent events, conversations and becomes irritable when this is pointed out. They may get lost in their usual surroundings or even in their own house. They may not be able to dress appropriately and may be unable to give out their correct address when asked. At this stage the person is unable to live independently.

Moderately-severe AD

The person is unable to carry out basic activities like brushing, bathing, dressing, using the toilet or having a meal independently. They get confused with people and may recall dead people as still being alive. They are not able to remember the names of their parents, children or grandchildren or hold  meaningful conversations.

Severe AD

The person needs assistance for all their daily activities. Speech is limited to a few words and there may be repetition of a particular word. Later, the person becomes speechless. The person cannot walk and is wheelchair bound. With further progression of AD, the person is unable to sit with their head held upright and is then confined to bed. They cannot swallow and need a feeding tube. Their control over urination and defecation is lost. The body becomes rigid and limbs get contractures and are in a fixed posture. The person involuntarily grasps objects with their hands and sucks on anything brought near the mouth due to primitive reflexes.

Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease?

Currently there is no cure for AD. In the early stages, medications can improve memory to some extent and may even slow memory decline.

Educating caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease is important as they are prone to chronic stress and burnout is common. A good caregiver support programme improves the quality of life of AD patients and their families and delays placing AD patients in nursing homes.

Can we prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

While there is no definite way to prevent AD, there are some precautions one can take. Eating dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, fish, walnuts, nuts, black berries and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids helps to protect against AD. Dairy products, red meat and butter are high in saturated fats and are considered unhealthy for the brain. Learning to play an instrument or a speak a new language, doing crossword puzzles or other activities like solving Sudoku that require the brain to exercise may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Remaining socially active and mentally engaged may delay cognitive decline.

This was first published in the July 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing

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Rahul Chakor
Dr. Rahul Chakor is a consultant Neurologist with over 20 years of experience. He practises at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai. He was Professor and Head of Neurology Department at TN Medical College and BYL Nair Hospital, Mumbai at the time of writing this article.


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