World Alzheimer’s Day

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), every 3 seconds, someone in the world develops dementia/ Alzheimer’s. Over 50 million people worldwide are affected by dementia and about 60-70% of these cases are caused by Alzheimer’s which is the most common form of dementia.

Dementia is a group of disorders that affect mental functioning. Each year, nearly 10 million new cases of dementia occur, and this is projected to continue increasing. If that is the cases, by 2030, 82 million people will have dementia.

Most people think that dementia is a normal part of ageing, however, this is not necessarily true, despite the fact that most people suffering from this condition are 65years or older.

About the world Alzheimer’s Day

World Alzheimer’s day is part of the world Alzheimer’s month which takes place every September, since 2012. Each year, on the 21st of September, world Alzheimer’s day is commemorated with the aim of creating awareness on Alzheimer’s and dementia. Very few people globally have an understanding of dementia and this has led to a lot of stigma surrounding this condition.

What is Alzheimer’s?

It is an irreversible, slowly progressive disease of the brain that destroys memory and other important functions of the brain making it hard for a person to carry out their daily activities as usual.

What causes Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s occurs when brain cells die over time, causing brain tissue to have fewer nerve cells and connections. The brain of a person with Alzheimer’s has a build-up of plaque and tangles.

Even though its exact cause is not fully understood, there are several risk factors that increase the chance of an individual to develop this condition, and these include:

Some unavoidable risk factors;

  • Age: People who are 65 years and above are at a higher risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s. However, as mentioned earlier in this article, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of ageing.
  • Family history and genetics: Having a close family member who has Alzheimer’s increases the risk of getting the disease. Inheritance of certain genes like the apolipoprotein increases Alzheimer’s risk, but not everyone with this gene will develop this disease.
  • Gender: Women are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than men.

Risk factors that can be modified such as;

  • Lack of physical activity,
  • Poor diet,
  • Untreated depression,
  • Cardiovascular disease as several lifestyle factors associated with this disease can also increase the risk for Alzheimer’s,
  • Smoking,
  • Obesity,
  • Certain diseases such as Down Syndrome because the genetic fault that causes down syndrome can cause plaques to build up in the brain over a period of time, which can in turn lead to Alzheimer’s,
  • Some health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension also increase Alzheimer risk, and
  • Having severe head injuries increases the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s depend on the stage of the disease. In the early stage, the main symptom is memory lapses which lead to a person with the disease to:

  • Forget recent events and conversations,
  • Forget people’s names and names of places,
  • Ask repetitive questions,
  • Show poor judgement or find it harder to make decisions, and
  • Become hesitant to try out new things.

As the disease progresses, the memory problem becomes worse causing:

  • Increased difficulty to remember people’s names including those of family and friends,
  • Problems with speech,
  • Sleep disturbance,
  • Mood changes like frequent depression and anxiety, and
  • Increased confusion, among others

In the late stages, the following symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty eating and swallowing food,
  • Weight loss that may be severe at times,
  • Gradual loss of speech, and
  • Unintentional passage of urine and stool, among others.

How is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

Since there is no specific test done to diagnose Alzheimer’s, the doctor has to do tests to rule out other conditions that can cause symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s.

  1. Test neurological function: This can be done by testing a person’s balance, reflexes, coordination, muscle tone and strength, and senses.
  2. Blood tests: These are done to rule out other potential causes of memory loss and confusion such as thyroid disorders.
  3. Imaging test: The use of MRI, CT and PET scans to give detailed images of the brain which can help in ruling out conditions which can cause symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s. They can also be used to check for abnormalities such a tumors in the brain and head injuries.
  4. Genetic testing: It is used to determine whether the condition is caused by inherited disorder such as Huntington’s disease.
  5. Cerebrospinal fluid: This fluid can be tested for biomarkers which can indicate the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease.

How is Alzheimer’s Treated?

Alzheimer’s has no cure because brain cell death cannot be reversed. The treatment of this condition is based on reducing its symptoms hence make it easier for people who live with Alzheimer’s. These treatment options include:

  • Medication based treatments: Some of the medications used in treating Alzheimer’s are:

1. Partial glutamate antagonists: Too much glutamate is not good for the brain and therefore, memantine is used to partially decrease the effect of glutamate so as to activate the nerve cells.

2. Cholinesterase inhibitors: These inhibitors block the breakdown of acetylcholine which is a chemical neurotransmitter of the brain that helps in the formation of new memories). More acetylcholine is available in the brain making it easier to form new memories.

  • Non-medication-based treatments: These are basically used to help Alzheimer’s patients to maximize their opportunity for social interactions and to participate in activities such as walking that can help people with this disease to live a more active life.
  • Treatment of psychiatric Alzheimer’s symptoms: This can be done through the use of:

1. Antipsychotic drugs, mood-stabilizing anticonvulsants and beta-blockers, among other drugs

2. Antidepressant drugs

  • Creating a safe and supportive environment by:

1. Keeping keys, phones and other valuable things where they are easily accessible,

2. Removing excess furniture, throw rugs and clutter,

3. Speaking to the doctor to simplify the medications, and

4. Keeping photographs around the house, among other things that can make the environment conducive for a person living with Alzheimer’s.

Prevention of Alzheimer’s

Currently, there is no proven way to prevent this disease, however, you can reduce your risk factors for Alzheimer’s by:

  • Keeping active; physically (by exercising regularly), mentally (by learning new things and playing games) and socially (by interacting with people),
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits,
  • Managing hypertension and any other condition that can lead to a high risk for Alzheimer’s such as diabetes,
  • Getting adequate sleep,
  • Not smoking,
  • Limiting alcohol intake,
  • Getting regular tests for heart health,
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight, and
  • Managing stress or depression.

By creating more awareness on Alzheimer’s, more people will understand the facts about this disease, and the stigmatisation that people living with it face, will be a thing of the past. It is therefore crucial to make more people globally, aware of Alzheimer’s and end stigma towards Alzheimer patients.

It is also important to support bodies and organisations that are carrying out research on Alzheimer’s which will contribute greatly to the stigmatisation and misinformation that surrounds this disease. Join us in educating people about Alzheimer’s on this World Alzheimer’s Day.

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