Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurological disorder that causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) and the brain cells to die. Broadly, the disease is a form of dementia, which is defined as a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. To understand more, this World Alzheimer’s Day — observed annually on September 21 — we reached out to Dr Vinay Goyal, director – Neurology, Institute of Neurosciences, Medanta Hospital, Gurugram who told us about how the two conditions differ, their symptoms, treatment, lifestyle changes that can help, and the important role a caregiver can play.
What is Alzheimer’s and how is it different from dementia?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of degenerative dementia in which the brain cells required for memory die, resulting in memory loss and forgetfulness. There are various types of dementia, including injury-related dementia and infection-related dementia. The disease becomes more common in the fifth and sixth decades of life, but 10-15 per cent of patients may present as early as 30 years of age. People may be predisposed to dementia genetically as they have two specific genes — presenile 1 and presenile 2 — the presence of which are checked in people complaining of dementia in their early middle age and progressing quickly. People having these genes are likely to develop dementia at an age of 30-45 years.
How does the brain work in both conditions?
In Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells die in areas where memory function is stored, and many regions of the brain shrink. This process, known as brain atrophy, is widespread by the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease, resulting in significant loss of brain volume.
Damage or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain causes dementia. Dementia can cause different symptoms depending on the area of the brain that is damaged. It tends to interfere with the person’s ability to function; for example, a person with dementia may forget what keys are used for. Dementia is not a normal part of the ageing process.
The common symptoms of Alzheimer’s are
*Increased memory loss and confusion — for example, people frequently forget what they had for breakfast, who they met in the morning, and so on.
*Loss of recent memory- over time, people tend to remember only things from their childhood.
*Lack of ability to learn new things
*Language difficulties, as well as difficulties reading, writing, and working with numbers
*Difficulty organising thoughts and reasoning
*Short attention span
*Inability to identify and locate places, for example, some people are unable to locate their rooms and bathrooms in the house
*Lack of time orientation
Common symptoms of dementia include
*Difficulty communicating or finding words
*Difficulty with visual and spatial abilities, such as getting lost while driving
*Difficulty handling complex tasks
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Treatment and role of caregiver
It is critical to distinguish the conditions because diagnosis and treatment are based on symptoms. For example, pseudodementia, also known as fake dementia, has symptoms similar to dementia but can be differentiated in the diagnosis. In both cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the role of a caregiver grows as the disease progresses.
Keep the following in mind for caregivers or family members
*Keep things simple.
*Establish a daily routine so that the individual knows when certain events will occur.
*Assure the individual that he or she is safe and that you are available to assist.
*Pay attention to his or her feelings rather than words.
*Do not argue or try to reason with the individual.
What kind of lifestyle changes can prevent both conditions?
Alzheimer’s patients should engage in physical activities, quit smoking, eat a nutritious diet, and engage in cognitive activities. Furthermore, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are encouraged to challenge their minds by eating colourful foods, which can help prevent or at least delay dementia. We recommend that the patient engage in brain activities such as playing cards, sudoku, and so on.
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