Family members can help watch out for the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease to prevent late diagnosis and so that patients can seek timely treatment, experts have advised.
The World Alzheimer's Day is marked every year on September 21 but the entire month is dedicated to mark Alzheimer's, which is the most common form of dementia. This month marks the 6th campaign under the theme 'Remember Me' to emphasise the importance of early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.
Currently, there is no authentic test to diagnose Alzheimer's disease but doctors advise family members to be alert and watch out for symptoms. They say that early management can help the patient and his caregiver make better management and plans of care.
Patients need to undergo a series of tests to ascertain whether they have the disease. Subsequently, misdiagnosis or late diagnosis are the common issues.
"Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed through a complete medical assessment as there is no single test available at the moment and even when the condition is detected, the cause is often unknown," said Dr Salwa Al Suwaidi, geriatrician and director of the Family Gathering Centre at Dubai Health Authority (DHA), for elderly patients.
"One of the symptoms is memory loss and often the patient resists accepting the symptom so family members should be alert to such signs, especially in elderly people and if the person has a family history of the disease."
Nearly 70 per cent of patients at the Family Gathering Centre for the elderly suffer from this disease. "After 65 years, every five years of ageing, the risk of developing the disease doubles and almost 50 per cent of people aged 85 develop this disease. However, so many family members do not recognise the first signs of this disease because the symptoms are similar to those associated with ageing," said Al Suwaidi.
Symptoms of the disease include forgetfulness, isolation, irritability, suspiciousness and loneliness.
She said the way to detect the disease requires several tests, including a neurological examination to rule out other diseases, which have dementia-like symptoms caused by treatable conditions such as depression, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol, hypothyroidism or certain vitamin deficiencies. Therefore, early intervention is vital in this disease, especially in the absence of one concrete test.
The Family Gathering Centre also has a support group for caregivers. "Alzheimer's is a disease, which takes its toll on patients and caregivers. One of the biggest struggles caregivers face is dealing with the patient's difficult behaviour," she said.
Mohammed Gamil Elnoamani, consultant geriatrician, said: "Support groups are particularly important for this disease because presently there is still no curative therapy available. Medications can only slow the pace of deterioration and therefore coping strategies and behavioural therapies are the cornerstone for dealing with this disease."
The 24/7 Alzheimer's helpline (056 3710077) provides information about the disease, medications and treatment options as well as information about how to provide quality care.
Dr Amit Arora, specialist neurologist at Aster Clinic, said that the population of the UAE is rather young, hence the condition is still less prevalent although it does exist. However, as people age, gradually the incidence of Alzheimer's is also expected to grow.
"In addition to this, there is a strong relationship between Alzheimer's and chronic metabolic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (CVD) which are rampant in this part of the region."
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