One day working in the outpatient department while I was a resident in neurology, I met a mother and a son. For the world, the mother-child relationship is extremely special, but the mother could not recognize her son.
Her son revealed that his mother first started forgetting where she kept her glasses and then missed sentences. She gradually began to forget familiar names and could not recognize familiar people. She lost track of her routine activities, gradually became bedridden, and was currently at a stage unable to identify her son.
Alzheimer’s disease, in my clinical practice, has always made me feel how important it is to be healthy. Life is all about creating great memories, but what if the memory is gradually lost.
On November 3, 1906, clinical psychiatrist and neuroanatomist, Alois Alzheimer, reported “A Peculiar and Serious Pathological Process of the Cerebral Cortex” to the 37th Meeting of Psychiatrists from South West Germany in Tübingen. He described a 50-year-old woman whom he had followed from his admission for paranoia, progressive sleep disturbances, memory impairment, aggressiveness and confusion, until her death 5 years later. His report noted distinctive plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the histology of the brain. It generated little interest despite an enthusiastic response from Kraepelin, who quickly included “Alzheimer’s disease” in the third edition of his Psychiatry text in 1910. Alzheimer published three more cases in 1909 and a “plaque variant” only “in 1911, which examination of the original specimens in 1993 showed that this was a different step in the same process. Alzheimer’s died in 1915, at the age of 51, shortly after obtaining the chair of psychiatry in Breslau, and long before his name became a household word.
World Alzheimer’s Day is celebrated on September 21 each year to raise awareness and educate about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This day is observed to understand the importance of talking about dementia and to demystify it. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that causes brain cells to degenerate and die.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a major public health problem and is the most common form of dementia that affects many aspects of brain function and contributes 60 to 70% of dementia cases. Public awareness of Alzheimer’s disease is very important in identifying the disease at an early stage and minimizing the progression of symptoms.
Here are the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Memory often changes as people get older. Some people notice changes in themselves before everyone else. For other people, friends and family are the first to notice changes in memory, behavior or abilities. Disturbing memory loss
everyday life is not a typical part of aging. People with one or more of these 10 warning signs should see a doctor to find the cause. Early diagnosis gives them a chance to seek treatment and plan for the future.
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life: forgetting events, repeating yourself, or relying on more aids to remember (such as sticky notes or reminders).
- Challenges in planning or problem solving: Difficulty paying bills or cooking recipes you’ve been using for years.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks at home, at work, or during leisure time: having problems with cooking, driving around, using a cell phone, or shopping.
- Confusion with time or place: having trouble understanding an event that happens later, or losing track of dates.
- Difficulty understanding visual images and spatial relationships: having more difficulty maintaining balance or judging distance, tripping over objects at home, or knocking or dropping objects more often.
- New problems with spoken or written words: difficulty following or joining a conversation or finding a word that you are look up (saying “that thing on your wrist that shows the time” instead of “looking”).
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps: putting car keys in the washer or dryer or not being able to go back through steps to find something.
- Decrease or lack of judgment: being the victim of a scam, not managing your money well, paying less attention to hygiene, or having difficulty taking care of a pet.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities: not wanting to go to places of worship or other activities as usual, not being able to follow football games or keep up with what is going on.
- Mood and Personality Changes: Getting angry easily in common situations or being afraid or suspicious.
Since there is little understanding of the disease, the stigma associated with it is a global problem. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It affects the parts of the brain that control memory, judgment, and language function, which can interfere with an individual’s activities of daily living.
Some of the risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, sedentary lifestyle. Thus, by modifying these risk factors, the progression of the disease can be slowed down.
Timely consultation with the doctor helps to delay the progression to a certain extent. It is also important to educate family members about this disease, because at some point during the disease, the responsibility of the caregiver becomes the most important aspect of treatment.
There is a global need for awareness of this disease. We can help by individualizing the management of dementia, by providing support to caregivers, early diagnosis and de-stigmatization. Together, we can reach dementia patients and their families and provide them with the care and support they need. This year, on World Alzheimer’s Day, we must make a commitment to understanding and comforting patients with dementia.
Dr Salma Suhana
Assistant professor, Department of Neurology
Yenepoya Medical College and Hospital
Medi Nerv, Mangalore.
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