• Reversible recent memory loss: It is normal to occasionally forget assignments, colleagues’ names, telephone numbers—and then remember them later. Those with the disease will forget these things more often and will not remember them later.
• Difficulty performing familiar tasks: Busy people can be distracted time to time and leave the soup on the stove, remembering it only at the end of the meal. People with Alzheimer’s could prepare a meal and not only forget to serve it, but also forget they made it.
• Problems with language: Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but this victim may forget simple words or substitute inappropriate words, making his/her sentences incomprehensible.
• Disorientation of time/place: It is normal to forget the day of the week or your destination for a moment. But people with Alzheimer’s can become lost on their own street not knowing where they are, how they got there or how to get back home.
• Poor or decreased judgement: People can become so immersed in an activity that they temporarily forget the child they are babysitting. People with Alzheimer’s could entirely forget the child, not just that they are supposed to watch him. They may also dress inappropriately, wearing several shirts or blouses one over the other.
• Problems with abstract thinking: Balancing a chequebook may be disconcerting for any of us. But someone with Alzheimer’s disease could forget what the numbers are and what needs to be done with them (that is, add or subtract).
• Misplacing things: Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or keys. A person with Alzheimer’s may put things in inappropriate places: an iron in a freezer or a wristwatch in a sugar bowl.
• Changes in mood or behaviour: Everyone becomes sad or moody from time to time. Someone with Alzheimer’s can exhibit rapid mood swings from calm to tears to anger for no apparent reason.
• Changes in personality: People’s personalities change somewhat with age. But a person with Alzheimer’s can change drastically, becoming extremely confused, suspicious or fearful for no discernible cause.
• Loss of initiative: It is normal to be tired of housework, business activities or social obligations, but most people will recover and regain their initiative later. The person with Alzheimer’s may become very passive as a matter of course, requiring cues and prompting to interact with other people at all times.
FACTS NOT TO FORGET
• Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the senior (60-plus) population.
• The prevalence of dementia doubles every five years from age 60 to about 90. This is why dementia affects only 1% of people aged 60-64 years, but 30-50% of those over 85 years.
• 3.2 million Indians suffer from dementia, including Alzheimer’s and other forms such as frontotemporal dementia (FTD or Pick’s disease, a genetic disorder), vascular dementia (the second most common form after Alzheimer’s), etc.
• India is the country with the second largest aged population in the world. Statistics show that by 2020, one out of 11 persons will be over 60 years.
• China has the world’s largest senior population, but the prevalence of dementia seems to be increasing more rapidly in India, so that it is likely to overtake China’s figures of dementia sufferers by 2020.
• Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a normal part of ageing.
• Genetics account for only 25% of Alzheimer’s cases; lifestyle speaks for the rest.
• Smoking after the age of 65 increases your chances of developing Alzheimer’s by 79%
• Obesity in midlife makes you three-and-a-half times more likely to experience Alzheimer’s
• Diabetes makes you twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s
• Chronic stress may quadruple your risk
• To reduce your Alzheimer’s risk, also avoid, treat or control:
* hypertension (high blood pressure)
* high cholesterol
* heart disease
* poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep
* sedentary lifestyle
* liver and kidney disease
* alcohol or drug use
* head injury
* working with toxic chemicals
• Activities that can stimulate your mind, improve your mood and sharpen your memory are positive steps towards reducing Alzheimer’s risk. So go to your club meetings, indulge in that daily crossword or the Friday night bingo session, and see your grandchildren in the park.