On December 31st, 2014, the Facebook picture of Giancarlo Murisciano took the internet by storm in just a few days. He was photographed cradling his 87-year-old grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and he decided to post the picture on his Facebook page.
As a result, it touched the heart of thousands of people. But, even though, the picture was very touching and didn’t need any words, the text that came with it was even more touching.
Basically, he wrote that he posted the picture “without any shame or fear” and that “people should live and fight.” He also added that his message for 2015 was that “people should be present for the ones they love, to protect and comfort them as well as be happy with them.”
Why I decided to write about Alzheimer’s disease
Like all the other thousands of people, I was extremely moved by the picture, so more so that I decided to write a post about that terrible disease. Coincidentally, while doing my research, I found out that January was Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in Canada. I couldn’t have chosen a better time to write my article than that.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Affecting over 40 million people worldwide and more than 5 million Americans, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and is also considered the most common form of dementia. This neurodegenerative disease slowly and progressively destroys brain cells, affecting memory, thinking, judgment and personality.
What causes Alzheimer’s disease?
With patient and determination, scientists have discovered what are the causes of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and how this terrible disease attacks the brain. Chemical and structural changes in the brain occur, disrupting the proper functioning of the brain and breaking down the brain’s structure.
You can check out the video below, created by the team at TED Ed, to learn who first discovered the disease, when it happened, a thorough explanation on the subject as well as how the deterioration of specific parts of the brain causes the different stages of the illness.
Who is most at risk of developing it?
Like every other disease, some groups of people are more at risk to develop AD than others. Did you know that 2/3 of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women? Unfortunately, yes. Paradoxically, more than 60% of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are women. This is definitely food for thought.
Age, family history, and genetics are the primary risk factors, but there are other factors that should be taken into account like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. Sleep disorder and hormonal replacement therapy are also modifiable risk factors.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s, also known as younger-onset Alzheimer’s, targets a group of people who are younger than 65 years old and affects people who have a family history of it. About 5% of those who have AD suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s. They can be as young as 30 years old, but this is very rare. Most of them are in their 40s and 50s.
Last year, Alzheimer’s Association realized a video with numerous facts and figures on Alzheimer’s as well as other at-risk groups. You will find in this video interesting information which can be very surprising and shocking.
Early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Memory loss is usually the first symptom that comes to mind when thinking about Alzheimer’s. More specifically, this is the difficulty of remembering newly learned information. However, this is not the ONLY symptom that you have to take into account. As the illness progresses, several signs and symptoms will add to it.
In fact, Alzheimer’s Association has put together a list of 10 warning signs that may help make an early diagnostic. All of this can be very confusing for the person affected as well as their loved ones, so before jumping to any conclusions, you should consult a doctor.
|Source: Alzheimer’s Association|
Treatment and prevention
Although it was discovered in Germany over a century ago, scientists are still struggling to find a cure. But they made some progress and drugs are now available to help improve the quality of life of the people suffering from Alzheimer’s. To date, several drugs have been developed, and although these drugs can’t cure the illness, they can help to relieve some of the symptoms.
The first class includes four kinds of drugs, and this class is called cholinesterase inhibitor. These drugs below work by decreasing the breakdown of the chemical substance called acetylcholine. Researchers believe that a low dosage of this chemical could be interfering with memory function. They are:
- Donepezil ( Aricept®)
- Galantamine (Reminyl® and Razadine®)
- Rivastigmine (Exelon®)
- Tacrine (Cognex®)
The other class is named NMDA receptor antagonist. Their names are Memantine (also known as Ebixa®, Axura® or Namenda®). This one works at the glutamate level, a chemical transmitter that could be damaging to nerve cells if found in excessive concentration.
Until now, maintaining a healthy lifestyle was known to be the only way to help to reduce the risk the development of the disease. But recently, other studies declare that this could be a myth, according to Dr. James E. Galvin, a neurology and psychiatry professor at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.
So my advice is, live the life to the fullest because you never know what could happen to you in the future. Maybe someday soon, we will know more about ways to prevent this devastating disease, but for now, we just don’t know what lies ahead of us.
We have to take into consideration that genetics and family history can put us at risk of developing AD. Naturally, leading a healthy life can have countless benefits other than protecting us against this terrible illness.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain