Age cannot be a consideration for forgetfulness; we all succumb to it at some point or other in our lives. As school-going kids and teens, we lose track of the right answers during an exam out of sheer nervousness. As we grow older, we might misplace things, or even leave things behind. And it is a known fact that memory tends to lose its earlier sharpness, as we step into our fifties and sixties. That is when people tend to comment, “Oh, you are growing old.”
These are quite common occurrences, however, and not really a cause for worry. The trouble begins when these lapses in memory begin to increase in frequency and other complications make their appearance. Medical experts refer to this as the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Now, there is a specific protein known as beta-amyloid protein, which circulates in human blood, as well as the cerebrospinal fluid. Suddenly one day, this protein decides to make its home in the brain, the area which is responsible for our thoughts, language and memory. As a result, the nerve cells here begin to die.
The process is slow, for the manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease are visible only after the age of sixty and beyond. Recent events are just wiped off from memory. Familiar faces seem unfamiliar, and even names are forgotten. After some time, even family members are treated as strangers. Routine daily tasks such as combing the hair or brushing the teeth are skipped because the person cannot remember. The severity of the disease can be understood when there is no lucidity in speech, and reading and writing become difficult tasks to perform. The individual may wander away from home and fail to return, or even forget the way. When anxiety and aggression become dominant features of the person’s personality, it is time to seriously think about a personal caregiver or admission into a skilled care facility. Thus, planning, reasoning, sense of judgment, language and perception—are all affected.
As with other diseases, Alzheimer’s disease can be hereditary. If a family member has already had it, it is possible to be passed on. Fortunately, this is still a rare occurrence. For those who are already suffering from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes or obesity, Alzheimer’s disease is an associated risk factor. Those afflicted with Down’s syndrome have no escape; the illness is going to hit them by age forty. A surprising new fact that has come to light is that someone with less than eight years of education could also succumb to this disease.
Considering that there is still much to be discovered about this disease, doctors cannot promise a surefire treatment to cure it. After all, it is associated with aging. But, there are specific drugs that can delay the process and offer a better prognosis. Most important of all, one can take heart from the fact that every aged person need not necessarily fall prey to Alzheimer’s disease; it chooses its targets.