Understanding Alzheimer’s Dementia

Aug 7, 2010

“Lost her mind, crazy, a wacko, senile” these are the terms we hear in everyday conversations about millions of people who have a serious, debilitating, neurological condition called dementia. It has been estimated that over 29 million people are diagnosed with dementia all over the world and a few more millions go undetected and therefore untreated because they are discounted as cases of age-related senility.

Dementia is characterized by loss of cognitive functions like memory, reasoning, thinking, judgment and so on. A person with dementia might also lose his or her ability to make decisions, to communicate clearly and to have an orientation to place, time and people. Many neglect their appearance, hygiene and personal safety. In some cases, the onset is gradual and in others, it is rapid. It has been found that some forms of dementias can be treated effectively if caught in the initial stages.

There are different types of dementias and not knowing the difference between them makes recognition and treatment challenging. Some of the common types of dementias are: Multi infarct dementia or vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s dementia, and atypical pre-senile dementia.

Alzheimer's dementia

One of the most incapacitating and irreversible dementias is called Alzheimer’s which affects millions of people every year. It is not just forgetfulness. It involves personality changes, neurological changes and also behavioral changes. It is a brain disease which is characterized by multiple lesions in the brain which slowly envelop the entire brain and destroy the cells rapidly. Areas of the brain that control memory, judgment, thinking and feeling are affected the most and as nerve cells in these areas die, a person loses control of all related functions.

Dr. Alois Alzheimer was the first to recognize the symptoms and write about this disease which came to be named after him. To a certain extent, memory loss and cognitive decline are part of growing older. Every person start losing some brain cells after the age of forty but at this age, the brain grows new cells to compensate for the lost ones. Decreased attention and concentration, increased reaction time and slower thinking and problem solving skills and loss of short term memory are some of the common symptoms of cognitive decline associated with aging. In Alzheimer’s dementia however, this decline is markedly rapid and the brain is unable to generate new cells.

What are some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's Dementia (AD)?

• Loss of recent memory: Even though the person has just finished his or her breakfast, he/she might say something like “They don’t feed me at all; it has been ages since I ate.” Asking the same questions and repeating oneself are the initial symptoms to appear in those suffering from AD. Switching on the stove and forgetting to turn it off can be a fire hazard; People go to bed with a lit cigarette in their hand which can also burn the mattress down and set the whole house ablaze in minutes. Misplacing personal items like keys is very common.

• Problems with language, calculation, abstract thinking, and judgment: The person with AD might have difficulty finding words to express himself/herself; lose all inhibitions, modesty, sense of shame etc- may undress in public, not be able to differentiate between the bathroom and the living room. They may have difficulty knowing the time of day, date, and place which is commonly seen during the middle stages of the disease. Persons with dementia are often confused and wander away from home or familiar surroundings and are unable to trace their way back home.

• Depression, anxiety, and personality changes: Suspicion, aggression, abusive and assaultive behaviors, crying spells, extreme dread are some of the symptoms that appear as the disease progresses.

• Late in the disease process, the person may experience hallucinations- they start seeing things and hearing noises, people talking; they may start gesturing and talking to themselves. Delusions or unshakable false beliefs also develop in some patients and they may say people are out to kill them, people are plotting against them, family members are conspiring against them, stealing their belongings, etc.

• In the advanced stages of this illness, a person may lose his or her ability to walk, sit without support, and may lose bladder and bowel control. Alzheimer's disease is incurable and is degenerative. The person eventually becomes completely dependent on family caregivers for all activities of daily living.

In a nutshell, it is a cruel disease which literally robs a person of his or her dignity and identity! AD can result from the accumulation of two kinds of abnormal structures in the brain- amyloidal plaques and neurofibrillary tangles which are directly related to the plaques and lesions found in the brains of people with AD. In simple language, the brain develops some dark spots and knots which lead to rapid decay of cells. What exactly causes the formation of these plaques and tangles in the brain is still being investigated.

What does research say?

The following are some of the preliminary findings of several research studies on Alzheimer’s dementia (AD) which could perhaps help keep Alzheimer’s at bay.

• People who take turmeric in their daily diet do not develop cognitive decline.

• Those who eat fish everyday have lower incidence of AD compared to those who don’t.

• Those with a history of diabetes, heart diseases, and high levels of LDL cholesterol are at a higher risk of developing AD.

• People who keep their brains fit after retirement by mental exercises- crosswords, number puzzles, chess, and reading have a lower incidence of AD.

• Family history of AD increases a person’s risk for dementia.

• Brain tumors, infections or head injury can also lead to the development of dementia in later years.

• Increasing the intake of foods rich in vitamin B can help decrease AD risk. Oranges, legumes, leafy green vegetables, wheat germ, broccoli are useful. Folic Acid supplements are also suggested.

• Loneliness is a risk factor for AD.

• Taking cholesterol lowering statins lowers the risk of developing AD.

• Physical exercise helps slow down the aging process and cognitive decline.

• Pranayamas, especially anulom-vilom pranayam reportedly helps in the regeneration of brain cells and prevents cognitive decline.

• High stress-levels in adult years can lead of a rapid loss of cognitive functions in later life.
(Excerpts from various sources)

Living with someone who has Alzheimer’s Dementia

Living with someone who has Alzheimer’s dementia is a Herculean task for family members and loved ones. Memory loss experienced by the person becomes a frustrating and agonizing experience for family.  Unpredictable nature of the person’s behavior often makes the family and loved ones walk on eggshells. It is difficult to predict when the person is going to flare up.

It is important for the family and loved ones to be compassionate and to understand that the abusive, assaultive outbursts are part of the illness and have nothing to do with what the family does or says.  Sometimes they express doubts and suspicions even about the right intentions of family and friends. They get angry without any provocation and lash out at loved ones for silly reasons.  Care should be taken to ensure that the person does not feel stupid no matter how silly the behavior is.

They often feel anxious and fearful: they imagine that the loved ones are out to get them or harm them in some way. Those who have ‘sun-down syndrome’ usually sleep during the day and feel comfortable when there is broad day light but are afraid at night. Leaving the lights on in the bedroom will help them feel secure.

Caring for someone who has this debilitating disease is not very easy. Even the most loving and patient family members lose their cool. Compassion is the key in understanding someone with Alzheimer’s. We don’t scream and yell at a 2 year-old who has peed in his pants, do we? But we somehow have difficulty in coping with the same behavior of an 80-year-old. Family needs to educate itself on the symptoms and admit that the person is like a child trapped in a grown up’s body, that’s all.

Gradually, as the disease progresses, the person loses memory completely and is unable to recognize family and friends. The capacity to learn new things, to follow simple instructions, to speak, to write, that we take for granted is lost. They don’t know how to bathe, how to eat, how to dress up and become totally dependent on others for all the activities of daily living. It is often painful for loved ones to watch a person deteriorate so rapidly. A calm, docile individual taking a180 degree turn and transforming into an aggressive, volatile human being is quite unnerving to say the least.

It is time to wake up!

India has enjoyed comparatively a low incidence of Alzheimer’s compared to the developed countries but global experts now caution that developing countries like India and China will be impacted worst in the next few years. According to World Health Organization, currently there are more than 18 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia worldwide.

Despite international research and advancement of scientific knowledge, we still know very little about this deadly disease and are far away from finding a cure for AD. What we have been able to do to date is to slow down the progression of the disease or manage a few of the psychotic and neurological symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. It is about time we woke up from our slumber and got ready to tackle this calamity.

Dr Lavina Noronha - Archives :  


by Dr. Lavina Noronha
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Comment on this article

  • Deven, Pune,Mangalore

    Thu, Aug 12 2010

    My father suffered and died of the disease in June this year. Of course besides the challenges of feeding, bathing, clothing etc, there is another element of later stages of AD which needed to be addressed and that is of forcible food intake. In advanced AD cases, the patient doesn't even react to liquid intakes. An ion in the belly needs to be made to feed the patient through the tube into the stomach. Luckily my father did not go through it as God Almighty took him up in the nick of time. I believe its one of the harshest ways to live and die considering the tough, sportsman that my dad used to be in his younger days.
    I will always have a big heart for the AD cases after seeing what suffering my dad went through.
    I now think also of George Fernandes and the stupidity of his relatives to take him physically to court to decide on his care. Maybe in his advance years also they will take him there just because his health deteriorates further and court decides that he is not being taken care of well. I hope better sense prevails between his brothers and his spouse. Obviously,this was not required.

  • Naina, Mangalore/USA

    Wed, Aug 11 2010

    Alzheimer's Decease is still unknown word in India.This Article about Alzheimer's is very informative. Truly knowledge is the power. Thank you Dr.Lavina Noronha. Thank you Daiji world.

  • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.

    Tue, Aug 10 2010

    It is a very informative article
    about a common disease affecting
    the old people, but ignored by
    many due to our lack of knowledge.

    In today's ABC news revealed
    that there will be a testing
    to check about the Alzheimer's
    disease by simply checking the
    protein level in the spinal
    fluid before it affects the
    brain cells causing this
    debilitating disease. The test will be available in the nearest future.

  • Lavina Picardo, katpady,Kuwait

    Tue, Aug 10 2010

    I am very happy 2 see such a beautiful & informative article, such articles create awareness in the society & empathy towards people suffering from it & also their families,please also share information regarding other mental problems

  • adshenoy, Mangloor

    Mon, Aug 09 2010

    Dr. Lavina,. This is an amazing information to understand this disease very much prevalent in western countries and perhaps enter India due to the latest craze of fast foods entering and consumed by masses here. Also the changing lifestyle of people.

    As you say India has enjoyed the absence of these disease mainly because of food habits and various spices and herbs we consume in our food.
    NOw research suggests that Turmeric and the curcumine in it are responsible to inhibit the onset of the disease. Quote-"One of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, The Journal of Biological Chemistry, in its Feb. 18 issue, has reported some surprising findings about turmeric. Curcumin, chemically a polyphenol, is the active ingredient present in turmeric root powder which gives the herb its characteristic yellow color. Investigators at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studied curcumin in mice, found that it was highly effective against Alzheimer’s disease (AD)".

  • John Tauro, Mangalore / Kuwait

    Mon, Aug 09 2010

    Thank you doctor for this highly informative and instructive article.

  • RM Dsouza, Mangalore

    Sun, Aug 08 2010

    Dear Doc.
    Thanks for this lovely article. Ever since my father has been diagonalised with Alzheimers, i have been reading more about it.. Alzheimers was totally unknown to our family. its sad to know and its hard to believe that your very own would behave like kids at some stage..
    I have read about Alzheimers club in the US, do we have something like this in Mangalore? is there any specialist that you could refer to? any tips at all? Please let me know.

  • Antony Herbert Crasta, Mangalore/Sydney,Australia

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading the subject article and I cannot find enough words how to express my gratitude and thanks for this wonderful and informative article by you Dr. Laveena, and also to you Daijiworld for publication. I have gone through the entire article and the useful guidlines and tips therein on how to minimise the risk of catching Alzheimer`s dementia or to keep it at bay will be quite useful, specially for an oldie like me. I have already printed out a copy of this useful article and kept for my constant reference.


    Sat, Aug 07 2010


  • nks, Mlore

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Dear Dr,
    Thanks for a very informative article. Lot of us don't know these symptoms and misunderstand our elders. This article stresses that compassion is the need.

    Sometimes back wehn one of relative who had AD was complaining that she didn't eat for days and nobody gives anything to eat. i didn't uch about AD & I took her complaint seriously & wanted to take some action about this. Later my mom pacified me and explained this.
    Thanks again.

  • Gladys Mudarth, Mangalore/Canada

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Thanx for the info. Doctors should
    share their knowledge with the
    public on different ailments.
    DR Lovina, you are generous.

  • vinay, kasaragod/dubai

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    my mother suffered this disease and passed away recently.most of the people dont know about this disease .very good article .

  • Langoolacharya, Belman/USA

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Antony T. D' Souza, Karkala / Qatar,

    Late Ronald Regan, former US president had Alzheimer's and could not recognise anybody including his wife and children.

    One should be careful, and do everything possible to prevent and/or slow Alzheimer's....

    However, there is nothing much docs can do about it...its Gods will.

    God Bless and Jai Hooooooooo

  • Ameeta, Mangalore

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    My father is behaving in the manner that you have explained and it has been a mystry to me and my family members as to what is the reason for his behaviour.Your article has been very helpful and informative.Thank you Lavina

  • L N Rego, Bendur

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Very informative article. Keep up the spirit of educatng people with your rich knowledge.

  • Pearl D'Silva, Mangalore/Bangalore

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Good article lavina.I lived with my maternal grandmother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s for 3 years.At times she would not recognize us.She would leave the house and go away searching for her parents.At times she was perfectly normal.It needs lot of patience to make them understand at that point of time.

  • N B, Bajpe

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Thanks Doctor.

  • Rony, Dubai

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Good Article worth reading

  • Carol, M'lore

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    My mom and siblings live with my grandmother who has alzeimers and I have seen a few people who come home, have no idea what this diesease means. If she doesnt recognise them or is rude to them, they take it as a personal offence rather than understanding what the person is going through. It is important that people are made more aware of this diease and learn to treat the person with understanding.

  • Antony T. D' Souza, Karkala / Qatar

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Very informative one. Kudos to Dr. Lavina Noronha. amazing manuscript.
    However, a bit of a recollection from a recently read article.

    “If you are young at heart, you’ll be young at brain too. Cardiac health is related to brain health. People with healthy and fit heart run a lower risk of Alzheimer’s Dementia.
    “Eating right, observing a healthy exercise regimen, being watchful about body weight, not smoking and managing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes will result in healthy heart”.
    “Brain Training Games imputes much required luster and space to the aging brain.”

  • tracy dalmeida, mangalore/israel

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Thanks Dr.Laveena Very good article.

  • L Pinto, Mangalore/ KSA

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Thank you for writing such an informative article. I always do look forward to read your articles.

  • John Dsouza , Chickmagalur

    Sat, Aug 07 2010

    Great article which gives awareness on Alzheimers's desease..Good Job

  • I.J.Saldanha., Mangalore

    Fri, Aug 06 2010

    Dear Dr. This is sure needed info - peole should read it. Please do give such write ups, I wonder if i can have a hard copy.
    Thanks & Regards.

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