Are you aware that by 2050 a shocking 115 million people are approximately expected to be impacted by dementia? (according to research predictions by Prince, Guerchet & Prina, 2013)
It's time to remember Alzheimer's disease to maintain a healthy, memorable future for Africa.
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition which causes the nervous system, for example, in particular the brain to decline in function over time and is typically associated with age (Ewers et al., 2011).
Dementia is defined as a condition which impacts cognitive abilities, it typically has an impact on more than two of these abilities as a result of dysfunction in the brain or having an injury (Carson & Kallan, 2021; Gale, Acar & Daffner, 2018). For example, dementia can harm abilities including memory and understanding (George-Carey et al., 2012).
Additionally, other negative effects associated with dementia include a lack of control linked with social and emotional behaviours (WHO, 2012). The most common type of dementia is classified as Alzheimer’s disease (Chen, Lin & Chen, 2009). Overall, dementia can have a drastic impact on an individual’s capacity to function properly on a daily basis (Prince & Jackson, 2009).
In developing regions such as Africa, more significant focus and priority have been given to more fatal diseases, for example, malaria (George-Carey et al., 2012).
This leaves a gap of less overall Alzheimer's and dementia awareness, especially as healthcare facilities are less trained in this area and therefore, fewer resources available to cater for this area, and as a consequence fewer people seeking assistance for related issues (World Health Organisation, 2006). Therefore, negatively impacting the people suffering from related issues (Prince, Guerchet & Prina, 2013).
More awareness is needed through both education and campaigns for healthcare workers and patients to create a better understanding of the disease. (George-Carey et al., 2012). In addition, family educational interventions (Mittleman et al., 1993). For example, the use of family educational strategies has been shown by research to help decrease the impact of taking care of older family members suffering from dementia (Mittleman et al., 1993).
Alzheimer’s disease has a variety of different symptoms including cognitive-related ones and those related to the brain and behaviour which are classified as ‘neuropsychiatric’ symptoms (Kaur et al., 2022).
Showing a lack of interest or emotion
Shifts in personality
Some typical symptoms that can be experienced earlier on in the condition include:
Feelings of anxiousness
Others that can typically be experienced later on include:
Issues related to appetite
Experiences of hallucination
It's important to note that there are a variety of risk factors which are commonly associated with increasing the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease (Chen, Lin & Chen, 2009). Being better aware of these factors could help in attempting to combat and prevent this devastating disease.
Let's discuss a few of these factors:
Diabetes has been recognised as a potential Alzheimer's risk factor (Kaur et al., 2022). For example, numerous studies which involved approximately 3 million people noted that people who possessed type 2 diabetes were at greater risk of developing dementia (Chatterjee et al., 2016). Other research has also shown that people who have Type 2 diabetes could have about twice the amount of risk of potentially developing dementia (Ott et al., 1999). Furthermore, it's interesting to see that the results of some Swedish research found that middle aged men who had type 2 diabetes were potentially at greater risk of also developing Alzheimer's disease (Rönnemaa et al., 2008). It was also found that men in the study who were 50 years old who produced less insulin had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (Rönnemaa et al., 2008). Overall, the research evidence from this study is helpful in showing particularly in men that healthy glucose levels in their midlife could assist in combating the likelihood of progressing towards Alzheimer's disease (Kroner, 2009).
Although rigorous control of diabetes may not be the sole driver of decreasing the risk of developing Alzheimer's, specifically dementia, overall, the research suggests that particular aspects of our health could affect other aspects of our health. Negative impacts could be particularly more detrimental especially with age (Livingston et al, 2020).
Hypertension or 'high blood pressure' has been observed as a factor which could play a role in the development of dementia (McCullagh et al., 2001). For example, the development of vascular dementia could be affected by high blood pressure (Lindsay et al., 1997). Research has illustrated that having increased blood pressure levels at a younger stage in life could raise the risk of progressing towards dementia later on (McCullagh et al., 2001). On the other hand, having good regulation of blood pressure levels could prevent or slow down the development of dementia and therefore, it suggests this aspect of health could be important to pay close attention to (McCullagh et al., 2001).
Overall, the research in this area sheds light on the fact that monitoring our blood pressure and keeping a close eye on this risk factor could potentially have a ripple effect on protecting other aspects of our health, to help buffer against developing dementia.
The amount of engagement in exercise has been researched widely as a risk factor associated with dementia (Chen, Lin & Chen, 2009).
Some research has illustrated that when elderly people engage in more physical activity, it's linked with better functioning cognitively (Yaffe et al., 2001; Barnes et al., 2003). In addition, the results of a US study found that participants who engaged in a minimum of four physical-related activities at least two weeks before the research study had a decreased level of dementia risk versus those who only took part in either a sole activity or none at all (Podewils et al., 2005). Overall, fitness has been linked with widespread advantages health-wise and the existing research overall conveys the fact that suggests that frequent physical activity could have life-altering improvements in terms of behavioural effects, brain health, cognition and reduction of inflammation on top of being a potential protective measure against Alzheimer's disease (Heyn, Abreu & Ottenbacher, 2004; Barnes, Whitmer & Yaffe, 2007).
Although Alzheimer's disease seems not to be the most prevalent condition within the region in comparison to other health crises, it still has a presence in the region. Therefore, advocating and pushing for more awareness is vital to ensure those affected can get the right support they need and deserve. Teaching people the signs and overall, educating healthcare workers seems likely to be a big component of the future approach and is highly necessary. Moreover, considering the risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and lifestyle factors such as engagement in exercise could help establish a more holistic approach to tackling the condition along with encouraging prevention.
by Tasnim Tayo