World Alzheimer’s Day

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September 2012 marks the first global World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge stigma. World Alzheimer’s Day, September 21st of each year is a day which Alzheimer’s organizations around the world concentrate their efforts on raising awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a group of disorders that impairs mental functioning. Every 68 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is often called a family disease, because the chronic stress of watching a loved one slowly decline affects everyone.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disease of the brain leading to the irreversible loss of neurons and the loss of intellectual abilities, including memory and reasoning, which become severe enough to impede social or occupational functioning. Alzheimer’s disease is also known as simply Alzheimer’s, and Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer Type (SDAT) .

Why the name Alzheimer’s disease?

Aloysius Alzheimer was a German neuropathologist and psychiatrist. He is credited with identifying the first published case of “presenile dementia” in 1906, which Kraepelin later identified as Alzheimer’s disease – naming it after his colleague.

What are the causes or risk factors of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Although a great deal of research has been done and is currently being done on the possible causes of Alzheimer’s, experts are still not sure why the brain cells deteriorate. However, there are several factors which are known to be linked to a higher risk of developing the disease. These include:

  • AgeAfter the age of 65 the risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. Although Alzheimer’s is predominantly a disease that develops during old age, some younger people may also develop the condition. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal the risk of developing Alzheimer’s is as follows:
    • Ages 65-74, 1 in 100
    • Ages 75-84, 1 in 14
    • Age over 85, 1 in 4.
  • Family historyPeople who have a close family member who developed Alzheimer’s have a slightly higher risk of developing it themselves – just a slightly higher risk, not a significantly higher risk. Only about 7% of all cases are associated with genes that cause the early onset inherited familial form of the disease. Among those who do inherit the condition, it may start at an earlier age.
  • Down’s syndromePeople with Down’s syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, which contains a protein that exists in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s. As people with Down’s syndrome have a larger amount of this protein than others, their risk of developing the disease is greater.
  • Whiplash and head injuriesSome studies have identified a link between whiplash and head injuries and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
  • Aluminum (UK/Ireland/Australia: Aluminium) The link here is a theory which most scientists have discarded. Aluminum exists in the plaques and tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Some have suggested that aluminum absorption by humans could increase the risk. However, studies have failed to find a link. Aluminum exists in some foods and plants. It is found in some cooking pans, medications and packaging. Scientists doubt there is a link because our bodies absorb minimum amounts and our bodies eliminate it through the urine.
  • GenderA higher percentage of women develop Alzheimer’s than men. As women live longer than men, and Alzheimer’s risk grows with age, this may partly explain the reason.
  • Mild cognitive impairmentA person who has just mild cognitive impairment has memory problems but not Alzheimer’s. His/her memory is worse than other healthy people’s of the same age. A higher percentage of people with mild cognitive impairment develop Alzheimer’s, compared to other people. Some people say that this is not a risk factor, because those with mild cognitive impairment just had a very, very early Alzheimer’s stage which was not diagnosed. Others disagree with this. Surprisingly, a UK study showed that people with mild cognitive impairment are less at risk of developing dementia than previously thought.
  • Heart disease risk-factorsPeople with the risk factors of heart disease - high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, and poorly controlled diabetes - also have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. If your high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, and or poorly controlled diabetes type 2 is a result of lifestyle, it is called a lifestyle factor. Eating a well balanced diet, doing plenty of exercise, aiming for your ideal bodyweight, and sleeping between 7 to 8 hours each night will probably eliminate these factors. If you cannot eliminate your diabetes 2, good diabetes control will help.
  • Processed foods and fertilizers (nitrates) A study carried out by researchers at Rhode Island Hospital found a significant link between increased levels of nitrates in our environment and food, with increased deaths from diseases, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes and Parkinson’s. The study looked at progressive increases in human exposure to nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines through processed and preserved foods as well as fertilizers.

Some other diseases and conditionsThe following diseases and conditions have been linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

  • Some chronic inflammatory conditions
  • A history of episodes of clinical depression
  • Strokes and/or mini-strokes
  • Obesity

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Doctors say Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes be tricky to diagnose because each patient has unique signs and symptoms. Several of the signs and symptoms present in Alzheimer’s disease also exist in other conditions and diseases.

Alzheimer’s disease is classified into several stages. Some doctors use a 7-stage framework, while others may use a 4, 5 or 6-stage one.

A common framework includes 1. Pre-Dementia Stage. 2. Mild Alzheimer’s Stage. 3. Moderate Alzheimer’s Stage. 4. Severe Alzheimer’s Stage.

Alzheimer’s SA is dedicated to providing support for families and individuals and strives to advocate on their behalf, to improve the lot of people with Alzheimer’s/dementia and their carers: http://www.alzheimers.org.za/AlzSA

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