On 21 September each year, the world comes together to celebrate World Alzheimer’s Day. It’s when campaigns are run internationally to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s and to mitigate the stigma associated with it.
2 out of every 3 people globally believe there is little or no understanding of dementia in their countries. – Alzheimer’s Disease International
Let’s bust some myths relating to Alzheimer’s Disease!
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and accounts for 50%-75% of all cases. It is a disease that destroys brain cells and nerves, which then disrupts the neurotransmitters and affects the production of certain chemicals such as acetylcholine.
Damage occurs in the temporal lobe and hippocampus, which are responsible for storing and retrieving new information. This consequentially affects people’s ability to remember, speak, think and make decisions.
MYTH BUST #1:
Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms including impaired thinking and memory. Alzheimer’s Disease is a cause of Dementia.
Another distinct difference between Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and Dementia is that AD is a degenerative disease that CANNOT be treated. Some forms of dementia such as those resulting from vitamin deficiency might actually be reversed. (Source)
How can I identify persons with Alzheimer’s Disease?
There are early warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease. Recognising these warning signs early can allow us to receive medical attention that eases the symptoms.
Let’s run through those more confusing ones!
When does forgetfulness move away from being just forgetfulness to becoming a symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease? A great example provided by ALZ UK is: When we are forgetful, we might briefly forget our neighbour’s name but we’d still remember that he or she is our neighbour. For persons with Alzheimer’s Disease, they would forget BOTH the neighbour’s name AND the fact that he or she is their neighbour.
Tip: A person with dementia will forget details and also the context.
Difficulty performing familiar tasks
For example, forgetting regular social activities, getting dressed and preparing a meal.
Problems with language
Recognised by their inability to express themselves through words or follow conversations, they would also forget simple words or substitute unusual words.
Disorientation to time and place
For example, they get lost in familiar places, forget where they are or how they got there, and not know how to get back home. They may also confuse night and day.
Poor or decreased judgement
For example, they may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers of clothes on a warm day or very few on a cold day.
Similar to the example in memory loss, persons with dementia don’t just misplace items, they may put things in unusual places such as an iron in the fridge or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.
Changes in mood or behaviour
Characterised by unusually emotional and rapid mood swings for no apparent reason. Alternatively, they may also show less emotion than was usual previously.
They may also experience changes in personality, resulting in them seeming different from his or her usual self in ways that are difficult to pinpoint.
Tip: Close family and friends are the best observer for this.
Loss of initiative
They may become very passive, sitting in front of the television for hours, sleeping more than usual, or appear to lose interest in hobbies.
Access videos that would walk you through the process of identifying, diagnosing and caring for persons with Dementia.
There are currently estimated to be over 46 million people worldwide living with dementia. The number of people affected is set to rise to over 131 million by 2050.
– Alzheimer’s Disease International
What are the risk factors associated with Dementia?
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s risk of developing a condition or disease. Note that having a risk factor does NOT mean that you WILL end up with the disease. You might have the risk factor but by taking proper precautionary steps, you can still lead healthy lives. There are some risk factors that you can control and some that you cannot.
Let’s take a closer look at both.
Risk factors you CANNOT control:
Above the age of 65, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease doubles roughly every 5 years. It is estimated that dementia affects one in 14 people over 65 and one in six over 80.
Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men. For other kinds of Dementia, women and men share the same risks.
More than 20 genes have been found that affect a person’s risk of developing it. Note that it doesn’t necessitate that people with these genes will definitely develop Dementia. It is also possible to inherit genes that definitely result in Dementia, such as familial Alzheimer’s Disease and genetic frontotemporal Dementia but it is extremely, extremely rare.
Risk factors you CAN control:
Having cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes increases a person’s risk of developing dementia by up to two times. Strong evidence has shown that cardiovascular risk factors significantly affect a person’s chance of developing Dementia. The main ones are:
- Type 2 diabetes – in mid-life or later life
- High blood pressure – in mid-life
- High total blood cholesterol levels – in mid-life
- Obesity – in mid-life
There is OVERWHELMING evidence that ‘What’s good for your heart is good for your head’. Poor lifestyle choices such as the lack of physical activity, unhealthy diet, smoking and excessive alcohol can increase your cardiovascular risks. This in turn contributes to increased risks of Dementia.
How can you take action?
The last but one of the MOST important topic to cover is what YOU can do about it.
It is important to remember that ageing is universal and none of us age alone. We age within a community and hence, we can contribute to creating dementia-friendly communities.
We are fearful of what we don’t understand. This could refer to racial hate or age-related stereotypes or plain old judgement against our peers.
The Alzheimer’s Dementia International also agrees that the social stigma is the consequence of a lack of knowledge about dementia. The numerous long- and short-term effects include:
- Dehumanisation of the person with dementia
- Strain within families and friendships
- A lack of sufficient care for people with dementia and their carers
- A lower rate of diagnosis of dementia
- Delayed diagnosis and support
In fact, Project We Forgot is hosting an event on 30 September to celebrate World Alzheimer’s Month through film, music, art and photography! The event aims to bring the journey of dementia and the impact caregivers face to light.