One of my colleagues had his dad go missing in the state capital a few months ago. The elderly man had come visiting and casually stepped out of the house and didn’t return. The next day, pictures of the missing man were all over social media, the radio, and TV. I first heard of the news from a close friend and the first thing I said was…He has Alzheimer’s disease. In Nigeria, several elderly people have been accused of being witches or wizards because they were found by residents of a neighborhood at odd hours e.g early hours of the morning holding on to a pole or any other object that could make for some form of support. The backstory for most of these older citizens is simply Alzheimer’s disease. They leave home and can’t remember their way back home and don’t remember that they have to ask or call someone, so just keep wandering about until they’re exhausted and then hold onto a pole or any object that can support their weight or sit or lie by the roadside. Sad isn’t it?
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, takes away the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.
It begins with mild memory loss and leads to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment. It involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language, and can seriously affect a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.
HOW COMMON IS ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States. It is the 6th leading cause of death among US adults and the 5th leading cause of death among adults aged 65 years or older. Younger people may get Alzheimer’s disease, but it is less common.
In 2014, as many as 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease.
The number of people living with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.
Death rates for Alzheimer’s disease are increasing, unlike heart disease and cancer death rates that are on a decrease.
WHAT CAUSES ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease. No single cause has been found, but several factors that affect each person differently may cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of the factors that make a person more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease are:
- Age: Age is the best-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Family history: Researchers believe that genetics may play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Changes in the brain; which can begin years before the first symptoms appear.
Also, some of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
There is growing evidence that physical, mental, and social activities may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
The symptoms of the disease can first appear after age 60 and the risk increases with age.
- Memory problems; which are usually one of the first warning signs of cognitive loss. Memory loss disrupts daily life, such as getting lost in a familiar place or repeating questions.
- Trouble handling money and paying bills.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure.
- Decreased or poor judgment.
- Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them.
- Changes in mood, personality, or behavior.
If you or someone you know has several or even most of the signs listed above, it does not mean that you or they have Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to consult a health care provider when
you or someone you know has concerns about memory loss, thinking skills, or behavioral changes.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
The early and accurate diagnosis provides opportunities for you and your family to consider finances, care needs, etc.
Medical management can improve the quality of life for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.
There is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
TREATMENT OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Treatment addresses several different areas:
- Helping people maintain mental function.
- Managing behavioral symptoms.
- Slowing or delaying the symptoms of the disease.
Currently, many people living with Alzheimer’s disease are cared for at home by family members.
Caregiving can have positive aspects for the caregiver as well as the person being cared for. It may bring personal fulfillment to the caregiver, such as satisfaction from helping a family member or friend, and lead to the development of new skills and improved family relationships.
Although most people willingly provide care to their loved ones and friends, caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease at home can be a difficult task and might become overwhelming at times. Each day brings new challenges as the caregiver copes with changing levels of ability and new patterns of behavior. As the disease gets worse, people living with Alzheimer’s disease often need more intensive care.
PREVENTING ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Since the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown, there’s no certain way to prevent it. But a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk.
Some things you can do include:
- Stopping smoking.
- Keeping alcohol to a minimum.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet, including at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
- Exercising for at least 150 minutes every week by doing moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as cycling or fast walking), or as much as you’re able to.
- Making sure your blood pressure is checked and controlled through regular health tests.
- If you have diabetes, make sure you keep to the diet and take your medication.
My colleague eventually found his dad, thanks to well meaning individuals who had seen the news about the missing man. So the next time you see an elderly person lost in a strange place at odd hours, instead of crying “witch”, think Alzheimer’s disease and involve the local authorities so that they can be found by their families.