Would You Want to Know?

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by Helene Blanchette Contributor
January 21, 2023
Would You Want to Know?

I remember as a young child, when visiting my maternal grandparents, that I found my grandfather very strange. He would suddenly spring up from his chair at night wanting to go shop for grocery. My mother would calm him down and he would return to his rocking chair, only to get up 5 minutes later to put his coat on, heading for the grocery store.  This was when he wasn’t suddenly popping in your room at 4:00 am wanting to have a conversation, thinking you were his sister or brother. Grandpa died of Dementia he was 72.

Forty years later, it was for my mother to go through a similar cycle. We could witness her decline for at least ten years prior to her passing. My father and siblings were managing my mother’s decline while I lived in Singapore and I must admit that although my vacations were mainly to relieve them from the daily burden, it was an easy sacrifice compare to the constant stress they were under. Long after my mother passed away, we could still feel in them the lasting trauma related to the taxing role of being a caregiver.

Dementia is part of the Alzheimer disease umbrella and it is a significant public health issue in the United States and around the world. According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 6.5 million Americans were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2021, and this number is projected to increase to 16 million by 2050. Additionally, it is estimated that there are 1.6 million new cases of dementia each year. But stats do not tell the whole truth as so many cases are not reported or diagnosed. Dementia is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that is a leading cause of disability in older adults, and it places a significant burden on caregivers and the healthcare system. There is currently no cure for dementia, and existing treatments primarily focus on managing or slowing symptoms.

Scientists now know that Alzheimer begins its progression in the body about fifteen to twenty years before the first symptoms appear.  New blood tests or MRI scans can detect and reveal if you will develop the disease.  The key question is: Would you want to know?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the countries with the highest number of people living with dementia are China and India. It is important to note that it is the number of people and not percentage of population.  These densely populated countries have large aging populations and a significant proportion of their population is projected to be over the age of 65 in the coming years. Other countries with high numbers of people living with dementia include the United States, Japan, and Brazil.

It's also important to note that the number of dementia cases is not only related to the size of the population but also to socioeconomic factors, lifestyle, and access to healthcare. Countries with higher levels of education, income, better diet habits and healthcare access tend to have lower rates of dementia.

Dementia is a general term used to describe a decline in cognitive function, including memory, language, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases. It is important to state that dementia or Alzheimer is not a normal part of aging, but the risk of developing dementia increases with age. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life for the person with dementia and their caregiver.

Medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine can help improve cognitive symptoms such as memory loss and confusion in some people with Alzheimer's disease. On January 6, 2023 the FDA approved the new drug LEQEMBI, which gives increased hope of slowing down the progression of this brain eraser disease. However, these medications do not cure the disease and their effectiveness can vary from person to person. There are also non-pharmacological interventions that can help improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, and counseling.

While there is currently no cure for dementia, early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life for the person with dementia and their caregiver.

The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease typically begin with mild memory loss and difficulty with language, and progress to more severe cognitive decline, disorientation, and problems with daily activities. In the later stages of the disease, a person with Alzheimer's may have difficulty communicating, become increasingly dependent on others for basic care, and may experience changes in personality and behavior.

In a nutshell, Alzheimer's is characterized by progressive decline in cognitive function, specifically memory and language and it's the most common cause of dementia. While Dementia is a general term that encompasses a decline in cognitive function caused by a variety of neurological disorders.

Research on Alzheimer's disease has made significant progress in recent years. Scientists have made advances in understanding the causes of the disease and identifying potential targets for treatment. Another area of research has focused on the role of tau protein in the development of Alzheimer's. Some drugs that target tau protein are also in clinical trials. This includes drugs that target inflammation and the immune system, which have been shown to have potential in slowing the progression of the disease. Additionally, research on lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and cognitive stimulation, have also been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Knowing that your diet, lifestyle and brain stimulation treatments, as well the progression of researches in new drugs can help slow down the progression of this devastating disease, would you want to know early what your future can be?  In my case, the answer is a resounding yes, because I now know that I could alter the course of my future wellbeing. I have recently volunteered to be part of a new study, a simple blood test that will tell me if over the next decades I will be following the steps of my grandfather and mother. All I need to do now is to wait until I turn 65 to meet the criteria of eligibility.  

What about you? Would you want to know?


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Helene Blanchette

Contributor

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