All about Alzheimer’s

“Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything..”

These painfully unnerving lines are elicited from one of the most celebrated of all Shakespeare comedies, As you like it, and it promptly brings to mind the utter decrepitude and helplessness one usually experiences during old age….But in the contemporary context, these lines may as well describe an illness that is swamping our elderly populace at an unprecedented rate, yes, the deadly ailment I am trying to imply is none other than Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, which is although believed to rear its ugly fangs during one’s twilight years, around 65 to 70 yrs of age, it is not uncommon to find an 50 year old Alzheimer’s patient. As the world observers Alzheimer’s Day on the 21st of September 2008, the least I can do in the form of extending my condolences to the ones suffering from this crippling disease, is by dedicating an article as a means of creating awareness about a mental disease, which is usually shrugged off as an inevitable consequence of acquiring old age.

The German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer first described the term Alzheimer’s in the year 1901. It is essentially an progressive, degenerative, terminal mental disorder, which manifests itself in the form of acute memory loss, irritability, aggression, complete breakdown of intellectual faculties, garbled speech and other language related problems, hallucinations, confusion, getting lost in familiar places, misplacing things etc, where a person ends up being a social recluse and entirely dependent on external help even for his most trivial day to day needs. With the passage of time, it becomes more fatal, where the afflicted person is rendered bed-ridden with a completely dysfunctional brain. The most depressing fact about this illness is that no definitive cure has yet been formulated by the medical community even after 100 years of scientific research. Bereaved families end up shelling out millions and millions of cash for procuring prescriptive drugs for supposed treatment, with scarcely any positive results, as the patient’s mental health keeps debilitating, once this deadly disease strikes. With close to 10 million people already within its ambit, the figures are set to quadruple by 2050.

Medical experts are quite equivocal, when it comes to pinning down the exact time of the onset of the disease. Although the greatest known factor is with increasing age, it can also result due to family history and genetics, over exposure to aluminum, head injury, and also heart ailments. The most common aspect of this disease, deteriorating memory, has been variously analyzed, and it has been found out that people with Alzheimer’s never had a good retentive memory ever in the first place. There is consensus in the medical fraternity that almost all AD patients have the presence of plaques and tangles in the brain, which are basically extra-cellular deposits of amyloid in the gray matter and pathological protein aggregates found within the neurons respectively. A recent development in the cure of AD is the use of a radioactive dye called PIB {for PITTSBURGH COMPOUND B}, which avails of PET scans to find deposits of amyloid. This can lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease, helping doctors to distinguish it from other forms of dementia. Efforts are also on to develop drugs, which will help remove the prevalence of amyloid from the brain, though this research area is still at a very nascent stage.

AD has spawned a clutch of professional Caregivers, exclusively trained to handle the erratic antics of the patients suffering from this neurological disorder. AD is an impartial brain disease; it can strike anyone and gradually assume monstrous proportions before one even realizes it. Therefore maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with reduced alcohol intake and minimal smoking, an active social life and regular mind-body-soul rejuvenation can go a long way in reducing the risks involved in contracting this disease. And the ones who are already in its grip, the best way to tackle such a person, is to go with the flow. We must not get exasperated with an AD patient, even if he behaves most abnormally, as it will only exacerbate their plight. We should participate in their reveries and fancies and gradually divert their attention to other things. Patience is the essence in handling a person possessed with AD.

Sneha Bhura

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