June is being observed as Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month (ABAM) in the United States. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, which describes a set of symptoms that can include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. During the course of the disease, proteins build up in the brain to form structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. This leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells, and eventually to the death of nerve cells and the loss of brain tissue.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. This means that over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop. They also become more severe.
Memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease increasingly interferes with daily life as the condition progresses. The person may:
- lose items (eg keys, glasses) around the house
- struggle to find the right word in a conversation or forget someone’s name
- forget about recent conversations or events
- get lost in a familiar place or on a familiar journey
- forget appointments or anniversaries.
Here are some more facts:
- There are 47 million people are living with dementia worldwide.
- There are approximately 40,000 Jamaicans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.
- The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s increases with:
- age – the risk doubles every five years over age 65, and nearly half of the people over 85 probably have it
- a history of a first-degree relative with the disease
- sex – two-thirds of the five million seniors with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States are women
- chronic diseases, especially poorly controlled diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- poor nutrition
- mild cognitive impairment
- lack of social engagement
- mental and/or physical inactivity
- Alzheimer’s is the only cause of death in the top 10 that can’t be prevented, cured or slowed. Three drugs, Exelon, Reminyl and Aricept are available in Jamaica for the treatment of the disease. They should be started early in order to temporarily effect slight improvements in mental function. Currently, the National Health Fund (NHF) does not cover drugs for treating Alzheimer’s disease.
- Most people living with Alzheimer’s are not aware of their diagnosis.
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