There are at least 50,000 people in Malaysia who have Alzheimer’s Disease as per the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation in Malaysia or ADIM. The name of this disease sounds different; what is this about?
It is said that people who are 65 years and above have a higher risk of getting this disease. This disease does not see rich or poor and can affect anyone – some famous people who have had Alzheimer’s include former US president Ronald Reagan and American film star Rita Hayworth.
A well-known artist in the UK, William Utermohlen, was diagnosed with this condition in 1995. He started drawing self-portraits for five years because he wanted to find out what was changing in his mind. In the year 2000, his self-portraits had become vague. The sketches were sans color, and that time, it was known that the condition was worsening.
So what is Alzheimer’s disease? What are the symptoms at each stage?
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that affects the nerves of the brain and deteriorates over time. Some of the early symptoms of this disease are short-term memory loss, which then progresses to become dementia. The condition of the patients worsens over time. The symptoms may vary from one patient to another, making it hard for doctors to predict the disease progression in each patient.
The disease characteristically progresses in 3 broad stages — 1. mild (early-stage), 2. moderate (middle-stage), and 3. severe (late-stage). Now, this disease affects people differently in different ways. Thus each patient will go through different symptoms – or progress through the various stages at different rates.
Let us go through the stage-wise symptoms one by one
Early-stage or Mild Alzheimer’s Disease
In the first stage of the disease, the signs are not visible. Alzheimer’s patients may still be able to do their daily activities independently. However, the lapsed of memory is the first symptom of patients. Common challenges for patients may include:
- Forget their personal belongings
- Remembering names
- Repeat the same question and talk
- Confuse the date and days
- Forget the conversation instantly
- Poor judgment and make decisions wrongly
- Not interested in social activities
- Unwilling to try something new
- Unstable moods and feel anxious, depression, tension get annoyed easily as they failed to carry out their task.
Carers need to be patient, encourage them to do what they can do, rather than what they can’t do. Avoid helping them to do all tasks, although their response will be slower than before. It may at least help the patient have some amount of self-belief.
Moderate Alzheimer’s disease or Middle stage
This stage is said to be the longest and can last several years. The changes in the patients are visible; they tend to get frustrated at being unable to complete daily tasks and increasing forgetfulness. It may be necessary for the carer to remind them repeatedly concerning everyday activities such as eating food, drinking water, washing, attending nature’s call, etc. They may forget to take the pills, turn off the gas, take the keys before driving, and so on. It is dangerous to leave such patients alone at home or allow them to go outside on their own. Some of the common difficulties they face include:
- Getting lost in familiar places and the inability to return home
- Weird behavior such as wearing nightclothes to go outside, talk childhood topic repeatedly, use a spoon to cut the steak, etc.
- Find it difficult to recognize people even though they meet every day like neighbors, children, and friends.
- Unable to express emotion. This makes it difficult for people to understand their minds and thoughts.
- Frustration and loss of self-confidence due to the inability to complete simple tasks change a patient’s personality.
Severe Alzheimer’s disease or Late stage
In this stage, the patients become dependent on others to accomplish routine tasks. They may have forgotten a lot of things, significant memory loss, but sometimes they have a sudden flash of recognition towards someone or something. They eve forget how to walk and highly rely on wheelchairs or lie on the bed eventually. Therefore, their body becomes weaker. Other symptoms may include:
- Difficulty in eating and swallowing food.
- Incontinence as they lose bladder and bowel control
- Speaking becomes a challenge because they just remember only a few words.
- Weight loss or overweight as the daily activities are varied than usual.
The patients at this stage suffer tremendously because they are unable to express their pain verbally. Carers need to be very patient and show a lot of love and care to the patients to help them overcome their suffering to some extent.
Although there is no treatment to cure Alzheimer’s disease, there are several methods to relieve some of the symptoms or slow down its progression. Acetylcholine is a drug that can lower the breakdown of a chemical in the brain. Researchers are now looking at new treatment methods to change the course of the disease and also help to improve the quality of life of the people who have dementia.