September is World Alzheimer’s Month. A noticeable global rise in the number of sufferers from the disease, which does not yet have a cure – and comparatively very few people are aware of it – has given rise to the need for raising global awareness. 47 million people worldwide are suffering from Alzheimer’s, with the number expected to reach 76 million by 2030 and 135.4 million by 2050.
Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. The most common cause of dementia, 60-70% of all dementia sufferers are victims of Alzheimer’s. Since the disease is primarily associated with ageing, and a majority of the sufferers of the disease are above 65, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are often overlooked and considered a part of the common process of ageing.
In fact, 59% of the people worldwide incorrectly believe that Alzheimer’s disease is a typical part of ageing. The lack of awareness is concerning especially because every year, there are as many as 7.7 million new cases of the disease, which means that every four seconds, someone around the world is affected by Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where the dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. Alzheimer’s sufferers live an average of 8 years after their symptoms become visible. However, survival can range from 4-20 years, depending on age and other health conditions. There is no effective cure yet for the disease, but current treatments can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer's and their caregivers.
Warning signs of the disease are: memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, poor or decreased judgment, misplacing things, withdrawal from work or social activities, trouble with images and spatial relationships, changes in mood and behaviour, problems keeping track of things and disorientation to time and place. The signs must be taken seriously because often, they go unnoticed, until the situation worsens and become regular in the sufferer.
The most effective means of tackling the threat of Alzheimer’s are: improving quality of life by raising awareness, removing the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Regular exercise and sleep, as well as maintaining a diet that consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, fish, moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, dairy, and red meat only sparingly would help lower the chances of getting Alzheimer’s.
An estimated 460,000 people were suffering from dementia in Bangladesh in 2015, and the number is expected to rise to 834,000 in 2030 and 2,193,000 in 2050 respectively. It must be mentioned that the progress of digital healthcare services like Tonic has made it easier than ever before to get help regarding awareness and healthcare. Only by working together, we can tackle the threat of Alzheimer’s disease effectively.
The writer is a Professor of the Department of Neurology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).