[OPINION] Alzheimer’s disease: Hidden in Plain Sight 

(Photo: Freepik)


By Dr Thaigarajan Parumasivam 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. According to the World Health Organization, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia ranked as the seventh leading cause of death globally in 2020. Currently, Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia estimated there are about 50,000 people in Malaysia with this disease.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), which Malaysia is one of its members, reported the prevalence of dementia in Malaysia was 123,000 people in 2015, estimated to hit 261,000 by 2030 and will continue to increase to 590,000 people in 2050.

Let’s see the causes, symptoms, treatments and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. 

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

The primary symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss as well as a decline in thinking and reasoning skills that affects daily life activities. Other symptoms include difficulty in completing daily routine (i.e. driving to a location and following a conversation), having trouble tracking dates and times, an inability to make a judgement and retracing misplaced things/items. As a result, Alzheimer’s patients often withdraw from work and social engagements. 

Mood swings, confusion, depression, changes in sleeping patterns, apathy and delusions are other symptoms of the disease. 

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

The exact cause of the disease is still unknown. However, a local study showed that some risk factors can increase the propensity of Alzheimer’s disease, such as older age, female, no formal education, Bumiputeras, unemployment and bad health condition. 

Having a family history of the disease does not mean you will have it, just that you are at high risk of developing it. 

What is the treatment for Alzheimer’s disease?

There is no permanent cure; there are medications available that can temporarily alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The current medications are Razadyne®, Exelon® and Aricept®, which are taken orally. There are deep concerns that these medications are not cost-effective enough to justify the efficacy and accompanying side effects.

Alzheimer’s patients are also encouraged to undergo cognitive stimulation therapy and cognitive rehabilitation. These are conducted by a trained therapist and designed to improve memory and problem-solving skills involving daily tasks. 

How to prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

There are no scientifically proven ways to prevent the condition. Yet, a healthy lifestyle definitely can reduce the risk. For instance, eating a balanced diet, regular exercise for about 150 minutes every week, getting sufficient sleep, ending smoking and keeping alcohol consumption minimal. 

It is undeniable that an active body is a pillar for an active mind. Regular health screening to ensure your blood pressure and sugar level is in the normal range is equally important to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Some evidence also showed that Alzheimer’s disease is lower in people who are mentally and socially active throughout their lives. Becoming involved in social activities or group sports, trying new hobbies and joining a music band could reduce the risk.

For those living with or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia offers a Dementia Helpline (+603-7931 5850) for help and care support. 

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Science Media Centre Malaysia

Dr Thaigarajan Parumasivam is a senior lecturer at the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia. He is an affiliate of the Young Scientist Network – Academy of Sciences Malaysia (YSN-ASM) and an honorary secretary of the Malaysian Society of Pharmaceutical Technology (MSPT).

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