This section answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Alzheimer’s disease
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as “senility” or “senile dementia,” which reflects the formerly widespread but incorrect belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain in which brain cells die and are not replaced. It results in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior, and is the most common form of dementing illness. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age as it could happen in younger people as well, although not common.
Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. There are estimated 50 million people worldwide living with dementia and will almost double every 20 years, reaching 75 million in 2030 and 131.5 million in 2050. Much of the increase will be in developing countries. Already 58% of people with dementia live in low and middle income countries, but by 2050 this will rise to 68%. The fastest growth in the elderly population is taking place in China, India, and their south Asian and western Pacific neighbors. Demographic ageing is a worldwide process that shows the successes of improved health care over the last century. Many are now living longer and healthier lives and so the world population has a greater proportion of older people. Dementia mainly affects older people, although there is a growing awareness of cases that start before the age of 65. There are over 9.9 million new cases of dementia each year worldwide, implying one new case every 3.2 seconds. There are between 500, 00 and 1,000,000 people with dementia in Pakistan. The majority of which are undiagnosed.
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. This damage interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected. The brain has many distinct regions, each of which is responsible for different functions (for example, memory, judgment and movement). When cells in a particular region are damaged, that region cannot carry out its functions normally. The causes behind Dementias and related Alzheimer’s disease are still unknown.
A definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is only possible with an autopsy. However, there has been enormous progress in diagnostic testing in recent years, leading to 80 to 90 percent accurate diagnoses of Alzheimer’s by physicians. There is no single or simple test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. A detailed medical history and physical examination are done. Then a series of neurological tests may be conducted over a period of time. The process is intended to rule out any other possible cause and symptoms. In some cases, a doctor may diagnose “dementia” and not specify a type. If this occurs it may be necessary to see a specialist such as a neurologist.
Ten percent of those over 65, and almost half of those over age 85 have the disease. However because of improved testing and greater public awareness, physicians are seeing an increase in diagnosed patients in their 40s and 50s. Alzheimer’s disease strikes equally at men and women, all races, and all socioeconomic groups.
Depression, nutritional deficiencies, drug interaction or intoxication, and thyroid imbalances can cause symptoms similar to those related to Alzheimer’s disease, and sometimes these symptoms are reversible with a physicians’ care. Symptoms are also found with dementias associated with stroke, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Pick’s disease, and AIDS. What should I do if I have noticed these symptoms in a loved one? Make an appointment with a physician for a complete examination. Discuss the symptoms you have noticed and your concern. Your physician may refer you to a neurologist for additional testing.