Alzheimer’s disease

It is important to know the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s because the onset of the disease is a gradual process
It is important to know the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s because the onset of the disease is a gradual process

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes brain cells to die and the brain to shrink. It is the most common cause of dementia–a syndrome that leads to the deterioration of cognitive function and behavior, such as the ability to think, remember, and reason–thus affecting a person’s ability to function independently.

Early Signs and Symptoms
It is important to know the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s because the onset of the disease is a gradual process. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but some medications can help improve or slow disease progression. An early Alzheimer's diagnosis may help lessen anxiety about experiencing the symptoms, utilize appropriate support, and prioritize quality time with family. Some early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, misplacing things, decreased judgment, challenges in planning, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, change in mood, trouble in conversation, and social withdrawal. If regular daily activities considered as a norm are difficult to carry out, consult a doctor for follow-up.

Risk factors
The specific cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown, but certain factors could increase the risk of developing the disease. These include:

  • Advancing age (most significant factor)
  • Family history (genetics)
  • Down's syndrome
  • Head injuries
  • Cardiovascular disease

Protective factors
Alzheimer’s risk can be reduced with healthy lifestyle behaviors:

1. Exercise: Engaging in regular aerobic activity of about 20-30 minutes daily can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

2. Diet: The Mediterranean diet shows promising evidence to help lower the risk for dementia. This diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and other seafood; unsaturated fats such as olive oils; and lower amounts of red meat, eggs, and sweets.

3. Mental stimulation: Playing crosswords, chess, reading books, meeting people, and going to new places can help foster feelings of social connectedness, a sense of achievement, and emotional regulation skills. These kinds of mental stimulation can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.

4. Quit Smoking: Stopping smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health

5. Maintaining a healthy weight.

6. Regular health checks as you grow older.

Supporting individuals with Alzheimer's and their families

  • Be patient, as it takes time to adjust to someone suffering from the disease.
  • Offer a shoulder to lean on because the disease can bring stress to the entire family.
  • Engage in having conversations with those with the disease, even when their ability to participate becomes more limited.
  • Help those with the disease with their to-do lists, such as cooking or grocery shopping.
  • Offer family members a reprieve by spending time with the person living with Alzheimer’s.

Being well-informed about the disease is important for long-term strategy. In Qatar, The National Alzheimer’s and Memory Service can provide the support and services to help families to cope with various stages of Alzheimer’s disease and help deal with evolving behaviors and other caregiving challenges.

Sources: Alzheimer’s Society | Annals of Internal Medicine | National Institute on Aging (NIA) | Cleveland Clinic | Mayo Clinic | World Health Organization (WHO) | National Institute on Aging (NIA)-Fact Sheet
Authors: Ms. Salina Khawaja, Dr. Sohaila Cheema, Dr. Karima Chaabna
Editor: Ms. Julietta Mirghani