Perhaps one of the most painful brain diseases is Alzheimer’s disease. It is a serious neuro degenerative disorder which not just affects the patient but has many psychological repercussions for the family and caretakers as well. To see your loved one slowly dissolve in front of your eyes, both physically as well as mentally, isn’t easy.
Shikha Verma, talks about her experiences of dealing with her partner’s Alzheimer’s condition and says, “There were days when we would just laugh at his absent mindedness when he would leave the door unlocked or forget to turn off the tap in the bathroom. But then there were days when I would be running to the neighbors’ homes looking for him as I feared he might not be able to make it home.” Her husband has now been institutionalized as taking care of him at home was proving to be more and more difficult.
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for about 60-70% of all dementia cases. The earliest indicative symptom for Alzheimer’s is short-term memory loss. As it slowly progresses, it manifests itself into more severe symptoms like trouble with language, deteriorating cognitive abilities, getting lost easily, having unpredictable mood swings. Perhaps the gravest consequences of this illness are a complete loss of bodily functions, an inability to take care of oneself and a withdrawal from society and family. The suffering patient feels lost and scared as the symptoms progressively become more serious eventually leading to death.
The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who in the year 1906 studied the brain of one of his patients who died of an unknown illness. He found various abnormal clumps and tangles of fibers in the brain. Since then scientists have been trying to figure out the causes and treatment of Alzheimer’s and have been making little progress.
A recent research was done by a team of Stanford neuroscientists, where they discovered that the way to preserve normal brain functioning and preventing the onset of neuro degenerative disorders may not lie with the nerve cells of the brain, instead if we were to focus on maintaining the functioning of the immune like cells in the brain we would get better results. Could improving the brain’s immunity help in the prevention of neuro degenerative disorders? This fact remains to be seen.
In terms of research on genetic contribution to Alzheimer’s, eleven new genes have been found that put a person at risk. There has also been evidence that chronic sleep disturbances also contributes in the early onset of the illness.
Another major research on stem cells has proved that modified stem cells may offer a way to treat Alzheimer. There have been many ways suggested to prevent Alzheimer, some of them being making changes in lifestyle. For instance, quitting smoking has been one of the prominent lifestyle changes suggested by doctors. Other than that maintaining a healthy balanced diet and an overall fitness level is always preached by the doctors for almost all illnesses.
Since this illness shares a host of causes both genetic and environmental, only one form of treatment intervention isn’t recommended. The recent approaches used by doctors today are holistic in nature. We spoke to a few psychiatrists and neurosurgeons regarding the mode of treatments they follow.
Dr. Natasha Kumar, a psychiatrist talked about how it is important to manage both mental and behavioral functions. She said, “To begin treatment we need to first diagnose at what level the illness has progressed. If it is between moderate to severe, we use medications immediately. These drugs regulate neurotransmitters which further help in maintaining cognitive, linguistic and certain behavioral functions. However, medicines have a short term impact and a larger level of management needs to be done.”
Dr. Shivam Garg, a neuro specialist also talked about his experiences working with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and said, “Educating families about the condition and giving them the support they need to cope with this illness is essential. There are many behavioral manifestations of this disease that results in aggression, agitation, depression and anxiety, the basis of which we are still figuring out but I think a major part of it is derived by the utter confusion that the patient feels about his debilitating condition. So along with medication, a lot of counseling and therapy needs to be done for both the patients as well as the caretakers.”
There are a lot of clinical trials that keep happening where patients with Alzheimer’s volunteer hoping to be cured. It is a difficult task to cope with the repercussions of this condition. However, the first step is to educate ourselves about the nuances of this condition, and then seek appropriate medical help at the first warning signs and symptoms.