Dr. T R John, Consultant - Psychiatry
Posted on Thursday, September 21, 2017
Alzheimer’s Disease is a degenerative disease of the brain that’s characterised by loss of memory, difficulties in thinking, communication, intellectual activities and behavioural changes. This a progressive condition wherein the brain cells and cell connections die, destroying one’s memory and other crucial mental functions. Usually seen in people above 65 years of age, estimates say that there are about 2 Lakh people in Kerala who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).
Early symptoms of AD include short –term memory loss or difficulty in remembering recent events (for example: the person he/she met last or what one had for breakfast etc.). This is called short-term memory loss as memories of older events are intact. This condition is often overlooked and dismissed saying “it’s an inevitable part of old age”.
This progresses across time and manifests as other symptoms like difficulty in finding words while talking, getting lost in familiar places, losing track of time, difficulty in decision making, managing finances (like calculating) and performing multistep tasks. Gradual mood and behavioural changes like irritability, sadness, anxiety, mood swings, withdrawal, aggression, change in sleep habits, disinhibited behaviours and lack of control over bladder/ bowel control also set in. These symptoms are usually the reason for psychiatric consultation. The patient can show symptoms like aimless wandering, shouting and find it difficult to perform daily chores, as the disease progresses.
Up to 70% of risk of AD is genetic. Past history of head injuries, psychiatric illnesses like depression and lifestyle diseases like hypertension can also increase the risk of AD. A good lifestyle and awareness can help in early detection, prevention and effective management of the condition.
If you happen to notice any of the above symptoms in a family member, friend or colleague, make sure you seek immediate help. There is no single or specific test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s dementia. The tests that are usually performed (like blood tests, brain scans, assessment of memory and other psychological functions) are to rule our other causes of dementia.
There’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, certain medications can manage symptoms, slow down the disease progression and alleviate suffering, for both of the patient and the caregivers. Behavioural problems associated with this condition can be controlled efficiently with psychiatric medications. Since patients with AD have less amount of acetylcholine in their brains, medicines that increase this chemical help in controlling the associated symptoms. A progressive disease with multiple symptoms, patients with AD require to be monitored regularly by a Neurologist.
Alzheimer’s Disease not only affects the patient, but also his/ her family, as taking care of someone with a degenerative brain disease isn’t an easy task. Symptoms of AD including behavioural disorders can worsen with time, causing severe distress to the caregivers. This can even affect their health and lead to issues like anxiety and depression. Hence it is extremely important to ensure that the caregivers are taken care of too, by providing all support required to cope up the difficulties and stay healthy.
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