What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause for dementia and is a growing health concern among the elderly population particularly in developing countries where the infrastructure and resources to support this disease are still in a developing stage.
The disease causes brain cell death and tissue loss throughout the brain and over time the brain shrinks dramatically, affecting nearly all its functions. This is due to the accumulation of abnormal clusters of protein fragments called plaques and tangles. These plaques and tangles block cell to cell signalling, thereby affecting the transfer of signals and vital cell transport system which deprives the cells of nutrition. Due to this being lost and losing vitality, the brain cells die.
Stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Earliest changes in brain cells begin 20 years before diagnosis and is seen over the superior part of the temporal lobe which is involved in learning and memory.
Mild stage – This generally lasts between 2 to 10 years. Symptoms are seen in the affected person as trouble in handling money or paying bills, wandering and getting lost in finding a place, and taking longer time to complete daily tasks.
Moderate stage – This lasts for 1 to 5 years. Damage to areas that control language, reasoning, conscious thought and sensory processing such as ability to recognise sounds and smells. They face problems recognising family and friends. They are unable to learn new things.
Severe stage – Plaques and tangles spread throughout the brain and the brain tissue shrinks. There is a change in personality and behaviour. Individuals gradually lose the faculty to care for themselves.
According to neuroscientists from Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, plaques and tangles tend to spread through the cortex in a more predicted pattern affecting memory, cognition and behaviour.
Myths about Alzheimer’s disease
1. The most common myth is that Alzheimer’s disease is different from dementia. But the fact is Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause for dementia which amounts to 50 – 60 per cent of dementia.
2. Another myth is that only people in their seventies and older get Alzheimer’s. The fact is that the disease starts 20 years before its overt clinical manifestation happens. So, Alzheimer’s grips individuals as early as in their fifties.
3. There are a lot of myths about treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. It is neither preventable nor curable. But there are some modifiable risk factors, if addressed effectively at midlife, that can keep the impact and progression of the disease under check.
4. Turmeric is considered to have therapeutic effect for Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin in turmeric serves as an anti-inflammatory agent which may help in overall reduction of inflammation due to abnormal protein accumulation. But there is no clinical data to support the decrease in cases in India where the consumption of turmeric is prevalent.
Precautions against Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease can affect anybody. There are modifiable risk factors which when effectively addressed during midlife through lifestyle changes can lower the impact of the illness. These modifiable risk factors include smoking habits, alcoholism, sedentary lifestyle causing obesity, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and coronary artery disease.
Eat a healthy and balanced diet which includes adequate fruits and vegetables. Avoid junk foods and high glycaemic index foods. Avoid saturated fat and exercise at least 150 minutes every week which includes moderate intensity aerobic activity. These are ways to reduce the risk and the impact of the illness. By staying mentally and physically active, we can reduce the risk and keep the disease at bay.
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