Alzheimers Disease : The Facts by Annette J Dunlea (Cork Author)
Alzheimers is a fatal and progressive brain disorder, for which there is no cure. Careful management of the patient is needed as it is a degenerative disease. It destroys the brain cells causing memory loss and difficulties with thinking and behaviour. There are four stages to the disease and it is fatal. The brain has 100 billion nerve cells called neurons. Each nerve cell communicates with others to form networks. Nerve cells help the body to think, learn, remember, hear, smell and to move muscles. In Alzheimers increasing numbers of brain cells deteriorate and die. Scientists believe that nerve cells are killed by plaques and tangles, which block communication between cells and distrupt activity that they need to survive. Sufferers also produce too much of a specific protein called beta-amyloid, this is turn facilitates nerve cell death. All victims of this cruel disease have problems with their memory, reasoning, planning, language and preception. 10% of people over 65 years of age and 50% of over 85 years get Alzheimers but it is not a natural part of old age. At present there are over 48,000 people in Ireland with Alzheimers and most of these have got it when they were over the age of 70. However, 2% – 5% of people get younger onset Alzheimers and these can be as young as 30 years of age. Certain people are at risk : those who inherit a specific gene, people suffering from hypertension, coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood cholestral. People who have Down Syndrome will automatically suffer the same brain changes once they reach 40 years of age. It is a life changing illness causing physical, emotional and mental problems. The average person with dementia will live 4 to 8 years. It is the fourth leading cause of death among the over 65 year olds. The disease follows a unique path for each patient but they all have some common symptoms: inability to acquire new memories and difficulty in remembering observed facts. Diagnosis is usually done by a doctor after a series of behavioural and cognitive tests. The doctor will then send the patient to a consultant to confirm diagnosis by using a CT Scan and MRI of the brain. It can be difficult to diagnose a patient at stage one and so the carer and the scans are very important to give correct information for the specialist to reach the right decision and to conclude at what stage of the disease they are at. Alzheimer develops slowly over a period of years and can often go undiagnosed at the early stages. As the disease advances there is confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings, language, breakdown, long-term memory loss, loss of sense and withdrawal. The patient is eventually bedridden and dies. In the end the patient suffers from extreme apathy and exhaustion. They are totally dependent on care. Victims need permanent residental care at this time. They do not recognise family or friends and they resist care. Carers should create a life story book and a caregivers diary for the patient. The lifestory book should introduce the person. It should include information accompanied with photographs of family, school days, working life, home and pets. Important memorabilia should be added and the patient and the carer can look through together. The second book the carer should write is the caregivers diary. This lists the patients factual personal and medical details to assist others to give care and medical help to the patient. It is important to record all key facts: name, address, age, telephone number, carer, next of kin and religion. It should list their daily routine and their likes and dislikes in food, music and tv. Included should be a list of their medical complaints and their medicines and the consultants they attend. Their optician, dentist, district nurse and gps contact details should be entered into the book. Any allergies should be noted. In 2006 Alzheimers cost the Irish state €400 million. 57% of care is given by family who get no financial compensation or help from the state. Dementia must be given a national health priority in Ireland. Research indicates that in 2009 there are currently 30 million people worldwide suffering from dementia. By 2050 this figure is going to rise to 100 million worldwide. There will be 4.6 million new cases of dementia worldwide every year. As there is no cure and it is a degenerative disease this places alot of financial and medical burden on states. Ireland has an aging population and needs a dementia priority health plan. Action is needed for more flexible and community based services, an early diagnosis and education program and medical and social research is vital. More information is available from the Alzheimers Society of Ireland by calling their helpline 1800 341 341. They also maintain a website at http://www.alzheimer.ie. Anybody concerned about themselves of a relative should keep a log of their observations and contact their local family doctor.