‘My father told me ‘Son, It's not his fault he doesn't know your face. You're not the only one. Although my grandma used to say he used to sing’ – Ed Sheeran, ‘Afire Love’
‘What are we after all our dreams, after all our memories?” - Noah, ‘The Notebook’
‘Oh, the sun sets the scene, while the rain misses me. And all the time I'll be growing, growing up beside you.’ -Paulo Nutini, ‘Growing up beside you’
What is it?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, a neurodegenerative condition characterised by a slow decline in memory, social interaction, mood and bodily function. Up to 60% of all dementias are of the Alzheimer’s subtype, with onset of symptoms occurring as young as age 40. The majority of those diagnosed are over 65, and around 15% of us will have the condition by our 80s. People may live as long as 10 years with the condition. As our population ages, this condition is becoming more prevalent and a greater understanding and discussion will benefit us all.
A diagnosis may explain a loved one’s troubles, but also presents an opportunity to take small steps in improving their lives. This article will briefly explain Alzheimer’s disease and its symptoms. We will then draw on the wealth of experience gleaned from carers and up-to-date medical research, which can aid those affected to live out their remaining years in comfort and happiness. Alzheimer’s need not steal the happy memories and we can guide our loved ones to a peaceful rest.
The nature of disease
The human brain is a delicate and transient structure, especially susceptible to damage. Accumulation of an atypical molecular protein, called β-amyloid (amongst others), causes irreversible brain damage in predictable brain regions. Symptoms reflect the hallmark march of this damage through the brain. Vascular disease (including vascular dementia), head injury, alcohol, smoking, diabetes and late-onset depression increase risk and rate of disease. Mixed dementia is common. There is some evidence of genetic linkage, where accumulation of the protein may be related to ‘faulty’ regulatory mechanisms in the body.
Eventually the cumulative damage pushes the body over the edge, with death coming from pneumonia or other causes.