From the first signs to treatment, a neurologist clarifies the main doubts about the disease that affects millions of people around the world
Currently, it is estimated that there are 50 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the world. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, this number could reach 74.7 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050, due to the ageing population.
In Brazil, data from studies with the participation of the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that there are 1.85 million people with some form of dementia. In addition, about 4% of elderly Brazilians have Alzheimer’s disease, totaling 1.3 million people.
In 10 years, we will have 50% more people living with Alzheimer’s, reaching 2 million Brazilians. Bearing in mind that the current estimate is that more than 50% of people living with Alzheimer’s are not diagnosed.
So, amidst the purple septembercreated to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s, we clarify some of the main doubts about the neurodegenerative disease that affects so many families around the world.
1. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same thing
Myth. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but there are several other forms, such as vascular and Lewy bodies, for example. Alzheimer’s is a highly complex disease whose causes are not yet fully known..
However, it is known that physiological characteristics, such as the accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain, and even socioeconomic indices, the main one being low education levelmay be linked to the origin of the disease.
2. Alzheimer’s begins before any symptoms appear
Truth. In the past, it was understood that a person with Alzheimer’s disease was one who already manifested symptoms, but studies have shown that the condition begins decades before the onset of clinical presentation, with memory loss and mental confusionfor example.
Today, we understand Alzheimer’s as an ongoing process, composed of an asymptomatic pre-clinical phase, followed by the so-called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The main factor that may indicate MCI are memory changes without compromising day-to-day functionality. In the stages of dementia, an impact on instrumental and basic activities of daily living is established.
3. Losing memory and getting confused are normal symptoms of old age
Myth. Forgetting birthdays and appointments, confusing the way home, repeating questions, giving up the “filter” when answering and other behaviors are often interpreted as normal signs of old age. Although, may indicate the onset of a neurological problem.
It is important to look for a professional, whether a general practitioner, geriatrician, psychiatrist or neurologist, to identify the origin of these symptoms and try to help, even if it is not dementia. There are other issues that can influence the emergence of similar symptoms, such as sleep disorders and depression, and it is important to identify the problem to initiate appropriate treatment, and even to eliminate the hypothesis of a neurological disorder.
It is important for the individual and his/her family to be aware of more prolonged signs involving recent memory loss, language dysfunction, and changes in mood and behavior, and to see a professional as soon as the changes become noticeable.
We cannot say that it is normal for a person who has always had a good memory to start forgetting simple things, for example. There is a certain stigma around old age, which not only generates an underdiagnosis of neurological problems, but also harms the mental health of the elderly. The “normal” should be to encourage and expect healthy aging, as far as possible, for each one.
4. Those who are not elderly can also develop Alzheimer’s
Truth. People under the age of 65 can also develop dementia. This, although uncommon, is not uncommon, and symptoms can start even before age 60. In these cases, there is usually a stronger genetic component that explains the development of the neurological problem.
5. It makes no difference to diagnose Alzheimer’s early, because there is no cure
Myth. An initial diagnosis is important for proper guidance and care to take place, keeping the disease more controlled. The use of medications and a multidisciplinary follow-up involving speech therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, physiotherapists, social workers, nutritionists, among other professionals, may be recommended, depending on the case.
Confirming the diagnosis can also reduce anxiety and provide more security for the person and their family. A survey on the value of knowledge, commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Association, indicated that more than 90% of participants would like to know the diagnosis if their symptoms were due to Alzheimer’s.
6. It is possible to prevent Alzheimer’s
Truth. It is more convenient to ingest a pill than to change one’s habits, but the question of prevention from a healthy lifestyle is essential. There are twelve known and studied so-called risk factors, which could prevent up to 40% of dementias if resolved. Among the main ones are: low education, hearing problems, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, alcohol, dyslipidemia and arterial hypertension. Sleep, loneliness and hopelessness are also being studied as risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Content for educational purposes only. Consult a Doctor.
The translator user relied on the following source:
Minha Vida Website – REF99827
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