Some weeks ago, I visited an old teacher at her home in some outskirt of the city. Even though she was amiably accommodating, she could not just remember who I was. I was quite disappointed and was about to leave when her granddaughter came to me and whispered that her grandma had Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, it was the reason she could not remember me no matter how vivid my descriptions were. Since I did not know anything about the condition, she decided to share some information with me over a cup of coffee. Today, I will be sharing some of the things she told me with you. Let’s get talking!
What about the Name?
The word ‘Alzheimer’ is some real tongue-twister. A number of people just wonder why the disease has an extremely complex name. I will tell you why. In 1906, a certain doctor called Alois Alzheimer discovered unusual clumps in the brain of a woman that had died of an usual mental illness. This discovery sparked up early investigations into the condition and eventually led to the naming of the condition after the doctor.
What Does it even Mean?
Alzheimer’s disease is a medical condition that is characterized by memory loss and cognitive decline. It is a degenerative disease because it is marked by the gradual reduction of the effectiveness of the brain’s cognitive functions. People with this disease gradually lose the ability to recall events, reason and recognize people that they know. Eventually, they may need full-time assistance as they may not remember anything at all. This is what happened to my school teacher.
The condition is popular in the United States. In 2013, for example, nearly five million persons were diagnosed with this condition. The disease is the most popular form of dementia.
Does Alzheimer’s Disease only Affect Old People?
Certainly not! Although the condition is more common with old people, young persons may also suffer from this neurodegenerative disease. This is termed: Young-onset dementia and it is usually as a result of hereditary or genetic factors. Usually, nearly 60% of persons who will have the disease develop symptoms before they turn 65.
What Really Happens?
The brain is a highly important organ in your body and it is made up of billions of cells that help it function properly. Usually, these cells have a way of balancing things up in the brain. The old ones die just as new ones are formed. More importantly, the remains of the dead cells are expelled from your body asap. This process is like clock-work, so you would usually not notice as none of your cognitive abilities are put on hold. However, for persons suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the dead cells stick around for a while; forming plaques in the brain. These plaques contain beta-amyloid and are not good for the brain’s functions at all. Gradually, they begin to disrupt these functions; leading to memory loss and cognitive decline.
How Do I Know I Have this Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease does not just pop up like that. There are a number of symptoms that let you know when the condition is knocking at your door. Let’s discuss five of them.
You Can’t Remember Something Familiar
Your kid brother just told you that the key to the cabinet is behind the flower vase. Seconds later, you can’t remember what he just told you. Worse still, you can’t remember he even told you anything! This may just mean that Alzheimer’s disease is creeping in. There may also be cases of misplacing your personal belongings. You keep your phone on the couch and the next minute, you are searching fervently for it. Sometimes, you could just forget routes you use every day, like forgetting your way to school or work.
You can’t understand the risks involved in certain activities. You want to drive with the doors open or stick your hands into an open circuit. Your decision-making skills have hit bottom line—you are spending too much and you cannot plan any activity that seems complex. All these point to the fact that you are gradually falling into Alzheimer’s pit.
What Happened to Laughing?
Everyone is laughing really hard at a joke and you just cannot relate to it—you may be fast-tracking into the Alzheimer’s zone. Researchers say that a change in one’s sense of humor is a sign that they may just be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Fighting with Letters
Suddenly, words and letters become your worst enemies. You struggle with them when speaking and writing. You bite your tongue once or twice as you struggle to pronounce a new word. Even your everyday words seem to have joined the rebellion as you cannot spell them either. Before heaping curses on everything language, kindly pause for a minute. You may just be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
You Just Want to be Alone
All of a sudden, your happy, outgoing self, has gone AWOL; leaving the melancholic you. This may result from the fact that you cannot remember how your favorite sport works anymore or you do not know the routine of your favorite dance. You used to be a real Salsa dancer but now, you don’t even know which foot should come first in the dance. This may lead you to keep away from friends and family. You just can’t explain why and how these things are happening.
There is no clear-cut way of finding out if a person has this disease. Usually, doctors will add up the symptoms you complain of and run a number of tests to determine if you have the disease. They would test your neurological functions. That is, how your reflexes work and your body’s balance. They may also test you for depression and some genetically-related diseases like the Huntington’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease can only be definitely diagnosed after death during a post-mortem. This involves an examination of the brain’s tissues. Weird right?
What Can You Do?
You are reading this and you realize that these things are actually happening to you at the moment. Or you know someone experiencing them? Don’t worry; there are a number of ways to manage this condition. Although there is no cure for it, therapy is a sure way to manage Alzheimer’s disease. Get involved with support groups that offer an array of healthcare programs.
There are some drugs you can take to slow down the rate of cognitive degeneration. They include Donepezil and Tacrine. All these help to ensure that you enjoy quality life even in this condition.
Aging and genetic factors are natural occurrences that increase your risk of suffering from this condition. Of course, these are things you really cannot do anything about. However, there are other habits that put you at risk of this condition which you can address. Regular exercising, proper management of diabetes and cardiovascular infections plus the consumption of a healthy diet are some of the ways you can reduce your risk of having Alzheimer’s disease. It is advisable for people to stay away from unhealthy habits as they age.
I had a rewarding conversation with that young woman. I was able to understand what my teacher was facing. More importantly, I am able to write this piece so that you too can understand this condition and the best way to manage it if it arises. So, now that you know, why not tell someone else?