Memory loss is the most common and earliest symptom of Alzheimer’s. As the disease progresses, the person may even forget how to do simple everyday activities such as bathing and dressing.
Alzheimer’s Disease affects those past their 60s, but it is not a natural part of aging. We often tend to expect older people to be forgetful or spaced out. We attribute these qualities to their age and ignore it. Only when their memory loss or cognitive decline begins to pose a safety-issue for the individual and those around him, do we actually realise something is wrong. At this stage even managing Alzheimer’s becomes difficult. Diagnosing the condition earlier on, will help the individual and his caregivers to be prepared.
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurological disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die. This obviously impedes and reduces normal brain function resulting in memory loss, cognitive decline and can even restrict physical activity. As the disease progresses it results in a visible decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills – making it practically impossible for the person to live independently.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BRAIN IN ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
The brain as we all know, is made up of nerve cells sending and receiving signals, enabling the mind and body to function in unison. When a certain protein called the beta-amyloid shows up in clusters forming plaque on the brain cells, the signal process (transfer of information to and from the brain) gets disrupted. Over type brain tissues get diseases and the nerve network in the brain gets tangled beyond repair. The proteins that are required to stabilise and nurture the brain are lost and brain cells just die. These changes are irreversible. Treating Alzheimer’s is all about managing symptoms and attempting to find drugs that can slow down cognitive decline.
SYMPTOMS OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
WHO IS AT RISK?
TREATING ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
There is no cure to Alzheimer’s. There is no way of reversing the cell damage that occurs in the brain. Modern medicine aims only at reducing the rate at which this happens, which means delaying the process but not stopping or reversing. Drugs are available to help maintain mental function and delay the onset of dementia. In a recent breakthrough by drug company Eli Lilly, it was found that their under-trial drug Donanemab may significantly slow down an Alzheimer’s patient’s cognitive decline. They conducted a two-year study on 272 people who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They found that patients who were given the drug had a 32% slower rate of decline than those who were given the placebo. It might be a while before the drug is commercially available, yet the promise it holds has brought hope for those with the disease. There are similar such drugs awaiting FDA approval, which promises to delay the decline into dementia and also increase the life-expectancy of those with Alzheimer’s.
Nevertheless, as the disease progresses it is best to ensure the person with the disease always has a caregiver present. Caregivers for Alzheimer patients must understand the condition, know what to expect and be equipped to deal with extreme dementia and altered physical behaviour.
CONSULTANT – NEUROLOGY
MBBS, MD, DM (NEUROLOGY)