As we age, our body organs begin to see a drop in their peak performance capacities. We cannot run as fast at the age of 80 as we used to do when we were 18. Hence, after approaching a certain age, the brain cells of humans start to degenerate.
Many factors are responsible for this degeneration. Sadly, very few people seek geriatric expert’s help in diagnosing and treating old age-related issues.
According to alz.org, dementia is prevalent in India with an estimated 4 million people being considered to be suffering from the degenerative condition. At a global level, more than 44 million people are living with the condition. But we rarely find our elderly seeking advice on this. In fact, many caregivers in the family decide that the family member is suffering from Dementia and/or forgetfulness.
What is Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?
Dr. Madhuri Behari, Director- Neurology at Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj said, AD is a degenerative disease of the brain characterized by memory impairment, disorientation, disturbance of speech altered behavior, disturbance of judgment, and inability to perform any coordinated learned activity. It is also characterized by the accumulation of unfolded protein in the cells of the brain which results in the slow death of these cells.
What are the symptoms and causes of the disease?
Dr. Behari explained, “The symptoms appear slowly and progress slowly. In most people, it starts with memory disturbance especially for recent events, like events that may have happened that same day, what they might have eaten, or where they had gone, etc. Some other patients do not recall words, that need to be spoken or the context in which they are to be spoken or their correct pronunciation. Some patients cannot comprehend what is said. Some other patients cannot remember the way inside or outside the house and get lost.”
“They go to the kitchen thinking it is a toilet, and even pass urine there without realizing it, or, cannot recognize the time. They get up any time thinking it is morning, and go and have a bath. They do not know how to wear clothes, and do not recognize their relatives. For them, time becomes standstill. They think that they are what they were when the disease started. So, they may think they are only 40-year-old and their wife who might have become older and treat them as strangers”, she adds further.
Is treatment available for Alzheimer’s Disease? How effective is the treatment?
Though treatment is available for symptomatic relief, there is no permanent cure for it, and the disease keeps on progressing. However, due to the available treatment, patients can lead meaningful life till the advanced stages of the disease, said Dr. Behari.
Is it genetically related, if yes, what cautions one must take?
Dr. Behari said, “Yes, there are some genetic factors involved. Epo E 4 gene, if acquired from one parent the chances of having AD is about 60%, but if from both parents then it is more than 90%, and also it manifests at a younger age. It is best to get checked for all possibilities to rule out the carrying of genes. In case you know that you and your partner or either of you is carrying the gene of Alzheimer’s disease, seek the consultation of an expert before planning a baby.
Is it a disease of young people?
AD is generally a disease of older people, i.e. above 60 years of age. But in some genetic cases, when both the genes show mutation, it occurs at a younger age, said Dr. Behari.
What role does education play in battling the disease?
A Large study in China has shown that it is more common in uneducated people. It is also shown that those who do activities related to the brain, are less likely to get it. That is why it is said “ use it or lose it”.