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Signal Block - A special health feature on Alzheimer's and Dementia

Signal Block - A special health feature on Alzheimer's and Dementia

Issue 72 September 2010

Dr. Noreen A. Kassem looks at the neurodegenerative disorders, focusing on Alzheimer's.

Neurodegeneration is the term for the progressive loss of neuron functions. Neurogenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s occur as a result of neurodegenerative processes.  


Symptoms of dementia

  • Loss of certain short-term and long-term memories

  • Confusion

  • Communication difficulties including speech, reading and writing

  • Mood swings

  • Loss of independence


Dementia is a blanket term for several symptoms that involve the decline of cognitive functions, such as confusion, memory loss and difficulty speaking, reasoning and understanding. It can be caused by neurodegenerative disorders, which are disorders that affect the signals between the neurons or nerves in the brain. The incidence of dementia increases with age, affecting five to 20 percent of individuals over the age of 65. However, dementia can also affect younger individuals and affects men and women equally.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Other causes include strokes, vascular diseases and brain lesions. In many cases dementia is progressive, meaning symptoms will gradually worsen over time. However, how fast dementia worsens and which symptoms occur depends on the individual and factors such as genetics, health, environment, support and treatment.  

A diagnosis of dementia is extremely distressing to both the patient and family. An individual suffering from dementia will need a great deal of reassurance, support and patience from family, friends and caregivers.

 Having trouble remembering things is a normal part of aging and often has more to do with responsibilities, stress and being unorganised or overwhelmed. Many adults do suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which can be a sign of poor health and a risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders. However, a diagnosis of MCI does not always mean that the disease will worsen and patients can take the right steps to maintain and improve brain health.


Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and causes a progressive decline of cognitive function and memory. This disease increases with age and usually occurs sporadically; ten percent of adults over the age of 65 and 50 percent of adults over the age of 80 are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

Genetics also play a part in Alzheimer’s disease with Caucasian and native American ethnicities more likely to be afflicted with this disease. Patients with other hereditary disorders such as Down’s syndrome typically develop Alzheimer’s as well.


Symptoms for Alzheimers

  • Memory loss that affects daily function

  • Problems with communication

  • Difficulty performing daily tasks

  • Disorientation

  • Decreased judgment

  • Decline of problem-solving skills

  • Misplacing items

  • Changes in personality; including mood swings



Treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia usually involves prescription medications that help to slow the progression of the disease. Treating symptoms as early as possible is important because medications cannot reverse brain deterioration that has already occurred before treatment was started. Fear and the stigma associated with the disease often prevent individuals and family members from seeking treatment until much later stages in the disease. However, early diagnosis and treatment helps to slow memory loss and decrease the decline in brain function.


Preventing and Delaying Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia

Although Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is often linked to genetics in some individuals, other factors such as lifestyle, nutrition and exercise can prevent or delay this disease. Age-related memory glitches are usually noticed by the age of 40 or 50, however, the neurological or nerve changes in the brain that cause degeneration begin in our 20s and 30s. However, positive lifestyle choices and strategies can build both physical and mental endurance. These include getting enough regular sleep during the night hours, keeping your mind active by learning and testing your memory, getting plenty of exercise, and learning to handle stress positively.

Walking is thought to be one of the most effective exercises for brain health because it promotes blood circulation without burning excessive energy. A brisk, 20-30 minute walk a day can help to provide maximum nutrients, oxygen and energy to the brain.

A brain-healthy diet also helps to delay and prevent dementia. Research has indicated that cinnamon can help lower blood sugar levels in diabetics as well as cholesterol levels to prevent the hardening of arteries. Another study found that drinking green tea also helps to protect memory. Antioxidant compounds in green tea as well as black tea helps to prevent the build-up of plaque on the brain cells.

A penchant for South Asian meals may also help to decrease Alzheimer’s. Medical research shows that the spice turmeric may be one reason why elderly adults of Indian, Pakistani and Bengali origin do not commonly develop Alzheimer’s disease. The spice contains an ingredient called curcumin which stimulates the immune system to protect and cleanse the brain and decreases inflammation.


Risk Factors

  • Weight

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes

  • Chronic, uncontrolled stress

  • Poor quality of sleep

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol

  • Heart disease

  • Toxins/ pollutants in the body


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