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The Serious Case of Alzheimer’s Disease

As countries celebrate World Alzheimer’s Month and World Alzheimer’s Day in September, the international campaign to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia continues to intensify.

Families and organizations in different nations are holding lectures, workshops, memory walks, physical activities and vigils in a serious and collective effort to heighten public consciousness on dementia.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), two out of every three people globally believe that there is little or no understanding of dementia in their countries.

With the impact of the 8-year-old World Alzheimer’s Month still growing, “the stigmatization and misinformation that surrounds dementia remains a global problem that requires global action,” said ADI.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 50 to 75 percent of all cases. In a study published in the Journal of Aging Research, around 6.8 million people in the U.S. had been diagnosed with dementia in 2013. Of these, 5 million had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. These figures are expected to double by 2050.

This disease destroys brain cells and nerves, disrupting in the process the transmitters that carry messages in the brain, specifically those in charge of storing memories.

With nerve cells deteriorating in particular areas of the brain, the ability of people with Alzheimer’s disease to remember, speak, think and make decisions is affected. It was first described by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906.

Alzheimer’s disease patients need extra care. ADI pointed out that a patient’s condition typically starts with lapses of memory and cognitive decline, manifested by their difficulty in finding the correct words for objects and moods.

As the disease advances, the patient may routinely forget recent events, names, and faces; have trouble comprehending what is being said; become confused when it involves money or driving a car; manifest perturbing changes in personality and behavior; exhibit mood swings, bursting into tears for no reasons and stating their belief that someone is trying to cause them harm.

ADI considers a diagnosis made early as helpful, because it helps carers and people with Alzheimer’s disease to be better equipped with the progression of dementia, to make decisions about their financial and legal affairs while they still have the capacity to do so, and to acquire a better chance to benefit from available drug and non-drug therapies.

However, post-diagnostic support, treatment and access to care in all countries remain as major obstacles to enhanced quality of life for patients and caregivers.

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Organizations concerned about Alzheimer’s disease noted that the illness is now one of the priorities of biomedical research, with researchers actively working to expand the understanding of dementia and its possible treatment.

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