What is dementia?
Dementia is an condition of the brain where the person develops various cognitive (intellectual processing) problems, memory dysfunction (particularly recent new learning memory , old memory is usually preserved till late stages),also has difficulty speaking, doing learnt skills and activities, inability to recognize things, inability to perform and do certain tasks, plan events, calculate, do day to day activities, self care, hygiene and personality and behavior changes often accompany. These are progressive and cause an imapairment of the functioning of the person in society and vocationally . There has to be a definite decline from the previous level of functioning.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) ?
This is an irreversible, progressive disorder in which brain cells (neurons) reduce with deposition of abnormal proteins, resulting in the loss of cognitive functions . Symptoms of the disease include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, personality changes, disorientation, and loss of language skills.
The cruelty of the disease lies in the fact that it robs us of our most basic functions: it deprives us of the very qualities that make us a human .
AD is generally known to afflict the elderly – those who are above 60 years of age. However, in some cases people as young as 40 years have also been known to be the victim of this disease.
The onset of AD is typically gradual, and the first signs of it may be attributed to old age or ordinary forgetfulness and hence be missed the clue is difficulty in remembering any new information. As the disease advances, in its middle stage cognitive abilities, including the ability to make decisions and perform everyday tasks, are eroded, and personality changes and difficult behaviors may emerge. In the third stage all memory and mental functioning may be lost and person may pass urine and stool in clothes and slowly may remain confined to the bed.
As Alzheimer’s runs its decades-long course, it replaces the brain’s exquisite circuitry with mounds of sticky plaque and expanses of dead, twisted neurons. In its later stages, AD eventually leads to death.
It is necessary to know the risk and preventive factors. Certain genetic factors and increasing age are the irreversible risk factors. The modifiable risk factors are taking care of blood pressure, diabetes, stop smoking , alcohol intake, head injuries, stress, obesity, sleep apnoea, body lipids/ cholesterol etc. Prevention is necessary by leading a healthy lifestyle, eating polyunsaturated oils (PUFA and MUFA), salads, fruits, fish, walking, aerobics, praying, meditation, yoga, active social life, positive outlook and healthy happy aging, companionship, pets, interaction with grandchildren (environmental enrichment), undertaking new learning, never giving up on life, not letting depression come in etc.
As it is both the person with dementia and caregiver who are hugely impacted by this disorder, it is a must that early symptoms be reported and memory testing be done serially by qualified brain specialists.
Treatment should be started as soon as the diagnosis is established.