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Friday, 28 September 2012 15:24

Alzheimer’s – Keep your brain active

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Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and, in Mauritius more than 6,000 people are affected by this brain disease. The ageing population is responsible for the increasing cases of Alzheimer’s. The best prevention, says Dr Vinod Ramkoosulsingh, is to always keep the brain active.
Alzheimer’s is a neurological brain disorder named after a German physician, Alois Alzheimer, who first described it in 1906 and is due to the shrinking of part of the brain. Those above 65 years old are more prone to being affected.

It starts with small memory losses, especially of recent events. For instance, the person may forget what he did during the morning but clearly remembers his childhood, explains Dr Vinod Ramkoosulsingh, psychiatric consultant at Brown Sequard Hospital, Beau Bassin. “It is possible that the family of the patient does not notice a change in his behaviour. But the person will realise that he is forgetting things, especially at the start of the disease. This will make him anxious, and even depressive as time goes by,” he underlines.

Dr Ramkoosulsingh notes an increase in the disease due to the ageing Mauritian society. The life expectancy of men is at 69 years old while it is at 74 years old for women. 5% of Mauritians aged above 65 years old are affected by Alzheimer’s and more than 20% among those aged above 80 years old. This implies that more than 6,000 Mauritians are affected, especially women.

The psychiatrist points out those persons who use their mental faculties less are the ones who are more likely to be affected. Consequently, intellectuals and those using their mental faculties are less prone to develop the disease. This is why Dr Ramkoosulsingh insists that the elderly should always be mentally active.

“For example, it is wrong for the elderly to isolate himself. He should always exercise the brain by reading or playing memory games. They should take maximum advantage of facilities made available to them,” he says, adding that the elderly can even opt for higher studies after retirement.

Alzheimer’s manifests mainly through a change in the behaviour of the person affected; he will suffer from mood swings; he can also cry for no reason and laugh even if there is no reason to laugh. The patient will have an abnormal behaviour, will be restless and will not be interested in important and major events. An anti-social attitude is also a sign of Alzheimer’s. As example, an Alzheimer’s patient can start shop-lifting or even urinate in public. Moreover, he will neglect personal hygiene.

“The family members should understand that the person has a problem and should not delay in seeking professional health assistance. It is essential to diagnose Alzheimer’s during the first stage of the disease so as to slow down its progression,” adds the psychiatrist.
He points out that Alzheimer’s is progressive and irreversible. Hence, the patient cannot be cured and medicines presently available can only slow down the progress of the disease.

Patients should be accompanied
It is imperative for the person affected by Alzheimer’s to be always in the company of someone else. It is not wise at all to leave the person alone as the latter cannot control his behaviour and is aware of only a few things. “The person can be a danger to his own person if left alone at home. A fire may break out while preparing the food; he may get fractures and injuries during a fall; he can also leave the house and later being unable to return. He can also attempt to commit suicide!” warns the psychiatrist.

He admits that it is not obvious for the family members to look after the patient. “However, the patient will have to be permanently under surveillance. The family members should share this responsibility because if there is only one person assuming this responsibility, he risks suffering from serious depression,” remarks Dr Ramkoosulsingh.

Alzheimer’s? Not always
All memory loss cases are not necessarily due to Alzheimer’s, underscores the psychiatrist. In fact, he says, depression can also be a cause of memory loss.
“Depression causes a deceleration of the mental and physical faculties. This is why memory loss is common in depressive persons. Fortunately, this disease is easily treated by taking medicines,” he says.

Rare among the youth
Alzheimer’s is less common among the youth. Nevertheless, some people may suffer from dementia much before attaining 65 years. This is mainly due to heredity.

Depression a risk factor
A depressive person runs the risk of developing Alzheimer’s if there is no treatment and if the person refuses to go out and socialize. Dr Ramkoosulsingh points out that depression affects 10% of the population and recommends those affected to get themselves treated so as to limit the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Pesticides can be harmful
The psychiatrist warns against being exposed to pesticides used in agriculture. “The wind exposes the inhabitants to chemical substance which can cause Alzheimer. They also run the risk of developing some cancers. It is urgent that authorities come up with regulations with regards to the amount of pesticides used by planters,” stresses the psychiatrist.

Priority to memory games
Dr Ramkoosulsingh recommends games which will stimulate the brain such as memory games, crosswords, and arrow-words. This is the most effective way of preventing Alzheimer’s, he maintains.

Premita Leelachand

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