Combatting Alzheimer's amid pandemic
Kolkata: Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people, symptoms first appear in the mid-60s, which is an alarming situation during the Coronavirus pandemic.
This may be a sign of certain disorders of the brain like degenerative brain disorders brain tumour, stroke, chronic meningitis, HIV or depressive disorders. There may be some metabolic disorders like thyroid disorder( hypothyroidism) , hepatic failure, vitamin deficiencies.
"However in degenerative dementias there is persistent deterioration in intellectual functions especially memory. An astute clinician recognises certain features that are indicative of particular degenerative dementias. AD is the commonest degenerative disease of the brain with immense social impact", says Dr Ansu Sen.
The exact cause of AD is not fully known but probably there is no single cause and several factors can affect people differently. In addition to age, certain factors like depression, hypertension, diabetes, head injury, stroke, anaemia, and obesity are associated with increased risk of AD.
Family history of AD can also provide important information.
He says, "In AD the brain atrophied diffusely and its weight is usually reduced by 20% or more. The disease process is associated with microscopic findings in the brain. However, a physician can come to a diagnosis based on the history of illness, through cognitive assessment and certain investigations like neuroimaging or certain blood tests especially to look for any reversible causes of dementia."
No definite treatment can stop or reverse the progression of the disease. However, treatment can help in addressing several different areas like drugs, helping people maintain mental functions, managing behavioural symptoms, slowing or delaying the symptoms of the disease.
A caregivers approach is considered as the patients increasingly rely for assistance for the day-to-day activities. It is also very crucial to assess the physical and mental stress of the caregivers.
There is no definite evidence to support that a particular measure is effective in preventing AD. But people who engage in intellectual activities have less chances of developing AD.
"Learning a second language even later in life may delay the onset of AD. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, enhances cognitive functions helps to increase hippocampal (memory centre) volume. Weekly fish consumption and increased intake of Omegga3 fatty acids are also associated with decreased AD Dementia," says Dr Sen.
Alzheimer's vaccine triggers antibodies against toxic beta amyloid in medical terms, which is the hallmark of AD. It may thus prevent the downstream pathology. A number of clinical trials for AD immunotherapy have started.
People with AD are facing unique challenges during Corona pandemics. The stress has taken a toll not only on them but also on the caregivers.
"COVID-19 does not increase the risks of AD, but increased age and associated health conditions may pose risks. Despite the gloomy and unfavourable outcomes, patients should always be motivated to participate in various activities," concludes Dr Ansu.