Dementia: Five questions about Alzheimer’s
Wednesday, December 30th, 2015 | Raising Awareness
Over the coming weeks Kare Plus shall be breaking down the ins and outs of dementia. There are many strains that fall under the umbrella of dementia, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s Disease and Lewy Bodies, and we will be examining each to help you understand what it means for the sufferer and their family as well as what can be done to prevent it and ease the symptoms.
First off, we look at Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Responsible for between 60 and 80 percent of all dementia cases and mainly affecting those over the age of 65. It is named after German doctor, Dr Alois Alzheimer who first discovered the disease in a patient who died following an unusual mental health illness in 1906. He noted changes in her brain tissue, which we now know to be tangles of fibres and placques. Alongside the loss of nerve connections, this is a common trait in sufferers of Alzheimer’s.
But what causes these changes? How is the disease treated? What does it mean? Well, let Kare Plus guide you through five commonly asked questions to help you understand more.
1) What are the causes? It is not exactly known what causes Alzheimer’s. We know it is linked parts of the brain wasting away, but we don’t know why. There is a trend of increased amounts of proteins and fibres in sufferers, but this is yet to be a proven cause.
What we do know are factors that appear to increase the likelihood of developing the disease. First and foremost, this is age. Every five years after the age of 65, the chance of developing the condition doubles. However, around 5% of people under 65 suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s, and it can be as young as 40.
Many well-known harmful lifestyle choices can bring on the onset of Alzheimer’s too; including smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In a handful of cases, Alzheimer’s can be inherited or even caused by whiplash and head injuries.
2) What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s? The symptoms develop slowly over time and can often be mistaken for the side-effects of getting old. In the early stages, the main effect is memory lapses. As this develops, confusion, OCD, problems with speech and depression will occur; often meaning everyday support is likely to be needed. Finally, in the later stages the symptoms can become very distressing for the sufferer, with difficulty eating, considerable weight loss, incontinence and difficulty moving.
No two sufferers progress at the same rate, so it is difficult to predict how any sufferer’s Alzheimer’s will develop.
3) How is it treated? Without knowing what causes Alzheimer’s, we don’t currently have a cure. At best we have medication that can reduce progression of the disease as well as support and care to help sufferer's live their everyday lives as full as possible.
The best way to access these resources is via your GP or other healthcare professionals. They can create a personalised care plan to suit each individual's needs.
4) How can it be prevented? Keeping on top of your general well-being is a big help in preventing Alzheimer’s – as well as other serious conditions.
As said previously, smoking, drinking and unhealthy eating can help bring on the effects of Alzheimer’s, so cutting down on all of these can help prevent the onset. Keeping active and exercising regularly will improve your physical and mental health too, keeping the disease at bay.
There is also evidence having hobbies that keep you mentally and socially active can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Some suggestions include reading, writing, tennis, golf, learning foreign languages and walking, but any stimulating activities will be of benefit.
5) What can you do to help an Alzheimer’s sufferer? When diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is easy to lose self-esteem, confidence and independence. As a family member or friend, reassuring them and accommodating their new needs is vital to help them stay positive and in as good a health as possible.
In particular, here are a few tips that can make a huge difference:
- Be aware how you speaking. Speak slowly, clearly and simply whilst maintaining awareness of the tone you’re using.
- Note the sufferer’s non-verbal communications – they often use this more than usual.
- Maintaining eye contact can help the person focus on you.
- Avoid sudden movements, as this can distress an Alzheimer’s sufferer
- Be aware if you could be intimidating them through body language or speech
- Don’t speak on their behalf or exclude them from conversations
- Avoid asking too many direct questions. Questions with yes or no answers can make it easier for them.
Over the coming weeks further strains of dementia will be analysed to help you understand what-is-what and how you can help a loved one suffering from the disease.
A new scientific breakthrough has recently been discovered, bringing a cure for Alzheimer's one step closer. You can read about this, here.