Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurological disorder which results in the degeneration and death of brain cells. It is characterised by memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. While Alzheimer’s disease usually affects people over the age of 60, it has also been known to occur in patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s (early onset Alzheimer's disease). According to the India Ageing Report 2017, about 1.4 percent of the Indian population was reported to be suffering from Alzheimer's disease in 2011. The report also said that over 2 million elders are expected to be affected by the disease by the year 2030. Over 4.6 million Indians are expected to suffer from Alzheimer's disease by 2050.
Alzheimer's Disease and Brain Function
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive disease that first affects the hippocampus in the temporal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for recording new memories. Slowly it also affects other parts of the brain which control functions such as speech and linguistic abilities, mood and behaviour regulation. These can cause memory loss, impaired judgement, loss of motor skills, aggression, apathy and depression. The damage can be found in the form of plaques, tangles, and cell degeneration.
Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
- Loss of memory – One of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is the inability to recall events and to make new memories. This becomes progressive and the patient fails to recall significant events and people.
- Lack of reasoning – Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by a loss of reasoning and judgement. This makes it difficult to assess situations, forming spatial and temporal judgements, and to recognise letters and numbers. It can also lead to confusion and aggressiveness over time.
- Linguistic confusion – Alzheimer’s disease also leads to loss of linguistic ability. This may lead to difficulty in finding the right words and even speaking. The patient may even have difficulty understanding words or written letters.
- Behaviour modification - Alzheimer’s disease may cause mild mood disorders to start with and as the disease progresses it leads to irritability, anger, hysteria, depression and fits of insane behaviour.
According to doctors and researchers, there are specific genetic changes in at least 5 per cent of the people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. This is determined to be one of the causes of the disease. Having a family history of Alzheimer’s is believed to put a person at increased risk of developing the disease. Head injury and sleep apnoea are also known risk factors. Recent studies have suggested that lifestyle disease such as hypertension and diabetes could also increase the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
A lot of research is being conducted on the causes and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease can be complex and can vary from person to person. There is no permanent cure of the disease and no one drug or treatment can successfully treat it. A combination of various drugs and therapies are used to slow down the progression of the disease. Early detection and regular screening help in managing the disease. Eating a balanced and healthy diet, exercising regularly and being socially active can significantly help in controlling the progression of the disease.