The word dementia means ‘deprived of mind’. It is a wide-ranging term that covers memory loss, confusion, changes in personality, a decline in thinking skills and dwindling ability to perform everyday activities. There are many types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. “Every three seconds someone in the world develops Alzheimer’s Disease,” according to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI).

September 21st marks World Alzheimer’s Day

Every September, people come together from all around the world to raise awareness and to challenge the stigma that persists around dementia. The 2021 campaign shines a light on the warning signs of dementia, encouraging people to seek out information, advice and support from ADI or the corresponding local Alzheimer’s Association.

“It is only through a truly global effort that we can raise much needed awareness and challenge the stigma and misinformation that still surrounds dementia, and we are calling on everyone to do something during September, however small or large, through our campaign ‘Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer’s’ Disease” shared ADI.

Dementia affects learning and memory in the brain

The terms dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used interchangeably. In part, that’s because it is very hard to tell them apart. Usually, a specific type of dementia can only be diagnosed by an autopsy after someone has died. Once dementia has developed, it is usually hard to reverse. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and slow its progression. Some medications can help slow the intellectual decline in mild to moderate dementia.

Memory loss disrupts daily life. An individual with dementia may get lost in a once-familiar neighbourhood. A common symptom is difficulty in recalling new information, he or she may have increased trouble making decisions, solving problems, or making good judgments. Mood and personality may change. A person with dementia can become more irritable or hostile or lose interest in almost everything.

Alzheimer’s Disease: Three Stages of Progression

Alzheimer’s affects people in different ways, each person may experience symptoms — or progress through the stages — differently. Alzheimer’s disease typically progresses slowly in three general stages: early, middle and late (sometimes referred to as mild, moderate and severe in a medical context).

Early-stage Alzheimer’s (mild)

In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, a person may function independently. He or she may still drive, work and be part of social activities. Despite this, the person may feel as if he or she is having memory lapses, such as forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects.

Symptoms may not be widely apparent at this stage, but family and close friends may take notice and a doctor would be able to identify symptoms using certain diagnostic tools.

Common difficulties include:

• Coming up with the right word or name.

• Remembering names when introduced to new people.

• Having difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings.

• Forgetting material that was just read.

• Experiencing increased trouble with planning or organising.

Middle-stage Alzheimer’s (moderate)

Middle-stage Alzheimer’s is typically the longest stage and can last for many years. As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer’s will require a greater level of care.

Symptoms, which vary from person to person, may include:

• Being forgetful of events or personal history.

• Feeling moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations.

• Being unable to recall information about themselves like their address or telephone number, and the high school or college they attended.

• Experiencing confusion about where they are or what day it is.

• Having trouble controlling their bladder and bowels.

• Experiencing changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping during the day and becoming restless at night.

• Showing an increased tendency to wander and become lost.

• Demonstrating personality and behavioural changes, including suspiciousness and delusions or compulsive, repetitive behaviour like hand-wringing or tissue shredding.

During the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, the dementia symptoms are more pronounced. the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, and act in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe.

As the need for more intensive care increases, caregivers may want to consider respite care or an adult day centre so they can have a temporary break from caregiving while the person living with Alzheimer’s continues to receive care in a safe environment.

Late-stage Alzheimer’s (severe)

In the final stage of the disease, dementia symptoms are severe. Individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, to carry on a conversation and, eventually, to control movement.

At this stage, individuals may:

• Require around-the-clock assistance with daily personal care.

• Lose awareness of recent experiences as well as of their surroundings.

• Experience changes in physical abilities, including walking, sitting and, eventually, swallowing

• Have difficulty communicating, especially communicating pain.

• Memory and cognitive skills worsen

• Significant personality changes take place and individuals need extensive care

• Become vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia.

Hospice Care is often Beneficial

The person living with Alzheimer’s may not be able to initiate engagement as much during the late stage, but he or she can still benefit from interaction in ways that are appropriate, like listening to relaxing music or receiving reassurance through gentle touch. During this stage, caregivers may want to use support services, such as hospice care, which focus on providing comfort and dignity at the end of life. Hospice can be of great benefit to people in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and other dementias and their families.

Can we prevent Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)?

As the exact cause of AD is still unknown, there’s no certain way to prevent the condition but a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk. Any habits that reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease also reduces the onset of AD.

“The most convincing evidence is that stress management, mitigating the risk factors and physical exercise helps prevent the development of Alzheimer’s or slow the progression in people who have symptoms,” says Dr Gad Marshall, associate medical director of clinical trials at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Harvard.

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