Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes the brain cells to degenerate and eventually die. It is the most common cause of dementia, causing a continuous decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills that disrupts a person’s ability to function independently.
This World Alzheimer’s Day, Dr (Lt Gen) CS Narayanan, VSM-HOD and consultant at the department of neurology, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals, Dwarka, shares with indianexpress.com some early warning signs of dementia that one must not ignore. Read on.
Memory loss is the key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Everyone has occasional memory lapses. It is normal to lose track of where one has put their keys or forget the name of an acquaintance. But memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease persists and worsens, affecting the ability to function at work or at home. People with Alzheimer’s may repeat statements and questions over and over, forget conversations, appointments and events.
They routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations. They may get lost in familiar places, and may struggle to find their way back home after going for a walk. Forgetting the names of family members and everyday objects causes them great distress. It becomes difficult to find the right words to identify objects, express thoughts and take part in conversations.
Mild cognitive impairment
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a decline in memory or other thinking skills that is greater than what would be expected for a person’s age. Annually, around 15 per cent of patients diagnosed with MCI progress to Alzheimer’s disease.
Thinking and reasoning
Alzheimer’s disease causes difficulty concentrating and thinking, especially about abstract concepts such as numbers. Multitasking is especially difficult, and it may be challenging to pay bills on time. These difficulties may progress to complete inability to recognise and deal with numbers.
Making judgments and decisions
The ability to make reasonable decisions and judgments in everyday situations will decline. A person may make uncharacteristic choices in social interactions or wear clothes that are inappropriate for the weather. It may be more difficult to respond effectively to everyday problems, such as food burning on the stove or unexpected driving situations.
Planning and performing familiar tasks
Cooking a meal or playing a favourite game becomes a struggle as the disease progresses. Eventually, people with advanced Alzheimer’s may forget how to perform basic tasks such as dressing and bathing.
Changes in personality and behaviour
Brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease can affect moods and behaviours. They may become depressed, apathetic, and socially withdrawn. Mood swings, distrust in others, irritability and agitation are not uncommon. As the illness progresses, they are prone to having delusional thoughts such as believing that people are stealing their possessions or that their caregivers are imposters.
Many important skills are preserved for longer periods even while others worsen. Preserved skills may include reading or listening to books, telling stories and reminiscing, singing, listening to music, dancing, drawing, or doing crafts. These skills are controlled by parts of the brain affected later in the course of the disease.
Lifestyle and heart health
Research has shown the same risk factors associated with heart disease may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. These include lack of exercise, obesity, active and passive smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and poorly-controlled type-2 diabetes. Changing lifestyle habits can at least alter the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Regular exercise and a healthy low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables are recommended to delay the onset.
Poor sleep patterns
Research has shown that poor sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lifelong learning and social engagement
Studies have found an association between lifelong involvement in mentally and socially stimulating activities and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.