September 21 was observed as World Alzheimer’s Day to create awareness, and to challenge the stigma that surrounds the disease. Neurologist Gajanan Panandikar gives us the low down on this ailment
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is one of the most common causes of dementia in the elderly, according to consultant neurologist of Healthway Hospitals, Gajanan Panandikar. Dementia refers to the deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour, and the ability of performing daily tasks.
“Currently, an estimated 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia, 60-80 per cent being AD,” states Panandikar.
And one of the most key symptoms of the disorder is memory loss, he states. “Symptoms like difficulty in remembering recent events or conversations, repeating statements and questions, getting lost on familiar roads, and difficulty in daily tasks, can be noted. Behaviour changes like frustration, irritability, or withdrawal from socially or mentally challenging situations too may be observed,” he says.
Panandikar points out that AD is a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental aspects that affect the brain of patients over a period of time. However, he says that while the exact causes of AD are not completely understood, at its core are problems with brain proteins that fail to function normally and disrupt the work of brain cells, that is, neurons, and cause nerve cells to die. “This in turn causes shrinkage or loss of brain tissue,” he says.
Key factors which can advance the development of AD is old age, family history, genetics, head injury, lifestyle ailments like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise. Panandikar also specifies that gender plays little or no role. “The onset of the ailment is generally after the age of 65 but can rarely occur at a relatively younger age in genetic cases,” he says.
While there are no clear indications on what factors can bring on the onset of the ailment, there are some measures individuals can take to stay healthy and keep AD at bay. “Eat a diet of fresh vegetables, healthy oils, and foods low in saturated fats and control high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol,” says Panandikar. Participating in events which stimulate and engage the mind such as social events, playing memory and board games, creating art, and engaging in a hobby can also keep the mind healthy.
The disease can be intimidating but there are ways to manage it well; medical and non pharmacological modalities that improve memory, behaviour, and quality of life. And caregivers and family members can take steps to ensure the well-being of patients of AD. “Avoid clutter in rooms as it can trigger confusion and cause feelings of threat to the patient, ensure rooms have adequate lighting and install secure locks on doors and windows as patients may tend to walk out and forget their way back home. Keep medication cabinets locked as a patient may forget and get an extra dose,” advises Panandikar, adding that it is also advisable to put a wrist bracelet on the patient, with the name and contact details of the family on it, in case the patient wanders away from home and forgets his or her way back.
Taking care of a patient of AD can also be quite exhausting and can cause burnouts. And thus Panandikar suggests a few tips to help caregivers. “Join a local or online self-help Alzheimer’s group, maintain your personal relationships with friends and family and seek help when required. Dedicating some time for exercise and meditation and prioritising activities that bring you enjoyment can be an excellent mood booster,” says Panandikar.