Focus is on slowing down the progressive disorder where symptoms worsen over time

September will soon be known as the month to remember, literally. For the first time, various international organisations have turned an erstwhile single-day awareness campaign dedicated to people struggling to remember into a month-long initiative to reach out to those affected with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease, the age-related form of dementia, was uncommon a few decades back, but no longer. Alzheimer’s results in serious loss of cognitive ability beyond normal effect of ageing in an otherwise unimpaired person. That Alzheimer’s disease cannot be cured or prevented completely (various treatment approaches are under trial) shifts the focus to slowing down the rapidly progressing disorder where symptoms worsen over time.

Priority is to postpone death due to dementia, says Arun Kumar, consultant psychiatrist at ATHMA Hospital. This also ensures that the role of caregivers is more pronounced than doctors. Caregivers are often family or caretakers in the case of old-age homes.

Screen for risks

Apart from drugs and psychiatric treatment that can only delay worsening of symptoms, the three fold tasks of prevention, identification, and management of Alzheimer’s can postpone death due to dementia. Risk factors include advanced age, genetic predisposition, hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, alcoholism, and head injury.

Minimising risk factors including prevention of fall is the key to slowing down progression of symptoms.

Screening of cardiovascular risk factors even for those in the 40s well before the setting in of Alzheimer’s is advised.

Controlling high sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol in senior citizens is the most effective way of combating Alzheimer’s disease, suggests Dr. Arun Kumar.

Knowing the signs

Spotting the signs of Alzheimer’s early on can help the patient access early treatment. Though associated with memory loss there are various signs at every stage. Early symptoms include forgetting familiar telephone numbers, names of old friends and relatives, inability to recall recent conversations, recurrent difficulty in remembering where things are placed and inability to name objects and resorting to referring as ‘that thing’.

In the moderate stage, the patient may forget the way home, date and time, skills like driving or affixing the signature. Poor judgment between hot and cold, being prone to trip and fall, personality and behavioural changes, and need for assistance in performing simple activities are characteristic signs.

The downward spiral of the disease are marked by forgetting names of close family members, turning aggressive at caregivers, inability to recollect identities of caregivers, severe motor impairment, total dependence, bed sores and infection.

Physical activities, engagement in mentally stimulating activities, reality orientation exercises, nursing in familiar surroundings and reassurance can help the patient cope better with Alzheimer’s.

The role of caregivers as the fundamental support structure for patients is being much talked about.

At a recent meet for inmates of an old-age home organised by the Department of Social Work, Bishop Heber College, the theme of the year ‘dementia- living together’ was accorded significance. The role of social workers in creating a stigma-free and dementia-friendly society was dwelt on.