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What is it?
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease of the brain. Brain functions such as memory, language, calculation and behavior are slowly and progressively compromised, leading the patient to a dependence to perform activities of daily living.
It is a different process from brain aging, as pathological changes occur in brain tissue such as the deposition of abnormal proteins and cell death.
The causes of Alzheimer’s are still unknown, although the process of loss of brain cells that characterizes the disease is known. What is known is that there is a strong relationship with age. Thus, the older you are, the greater the chance of developing the disease.
Alzheimer’s does not have a clearly genetic character, with direct transmission from generation to generation. What is estimated is that there is a transmission of the predisposition to develop it and this, together with environmental factors, may or may not trigger it.
The first signs are memory loss and the individual’s altered behavior. It is not just any memory loss that should draw attention, but one that is repeated and that starts to compromise the person’s daily life, interfering with the functioning of personal activities.
As the disease progresses, these losses are increasingly progressive and even compromise the patient’s autobiographical memories (such as the names of children and grandchildren).
Behavioral changes can occur from the beginning and are very frequent during the course of the disease. Individuals with Alzheimer’s may have features of depression, agitation and aggression, or even delusions and hallucinations.
Diagnosis is currently based on a medical interview and the exclusion of other diseases through blood and imaging tests (CT or MRI), as well as a neuropsychological assessment (expanded or computerized). There is still no biological marker for the disease, or a single test that the doctor can order and be completely sure of the diagnosis. Recent laboratory advances have improved diagnostic accuracy.
There are currently medications that stabilize the disease or reduce the speed of functional loss in about five years or more, which can offer more time with quality of life for the patient and family members. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, these medications, as long as they are well optimized, can offer comfort, relief and quality of life.
We can currently act in five areas of dementia prevention that will be much more effective if done together, and more effective if started early:
- Age-appropriate physical activity (preferably aerobic activity such as swimming)
- Balanced diet focused on natural foods, such as the Mediterranean diet and foods rich in omega 3;
- Prevention of vascular risk factors such as control of diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia;
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption;
- Intellectual activity: tests, mental exercises, maintenance of professional activity, cognitive rehabilitation program;
- Preservation of social and family relationships (interpersonal coexistence, maintenance and reinforcement of affective bonds).
There are still no miracle drugs or definitive procedures, but medicine has evolved rapidly in search of the best resources to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s.
In Brazil it is estimated that about one million people suffer from Alzheimer’s. The disease mainly affects people between 60 and 90 years old, and may appear before and also after this age range, but less frequently.
From the onset of symptoms, such as forgetfulness, to a more severe impairment, with limited gait and the ability to swallow, 10 to 15 years may pass. The disease itself does not lead to death, but to complications arising from the impairment of various functions.