Remember Me?

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Memories. So many images and sounds come to mind with this one word. Old school days, food shared over tiffin break, getting suspended for bunking classes,  lots of gossip over endless cups of tea, replaced by coffee in winter, special occasions celebrated with family, the friend who got married first, the first job… All these interspersed with moments of sadness and dark times of tears, despair and hopelessness. Not all memories are happy, or even worth remembering. But they get stored, anyway, and beam their luminous images before our eyes from time to time. Some of them are yellowed, some in sepia, and some more in colors as bright as a freshly painted landscape. And then there is a break in the film. As if  an invisible pause button has been pushed to signify an abrupt break in the smooth flow. Then slowly with the passage of time, this blot, like freshly spilled ink, creeps across the entire page and gets embedded within the images, darkening them, pushing them far down below where it can’t be reached anymore. When this happens, momentary pauses during the screening of these memoirs become long-drawn halts and finally, they vanish forever.

Sounds odd? Out of place? Unfortunately, what I’m talking about is a severe form of memory loss, known as Alzheimer’s Disease. It is the most common type of dementia. Memory loss in everyday activities is very common and nothing to worry about. But it is when these little things turn huge and monstrous, that we realize there is nothing left to be done. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, as many as 5.1 million Americans may have this disease and the incidence of this disease is rising in line with the aging population. It has been estimated that developing nations such as China and India will see a rise in cases of Alzheimer’s Disease(AD), due to the phenomenal growth in their aged population. As per researches, already more than 3 million people in India are living with it and this figure is projected to double by 2030.

What exactly happens in Alzheimer’s Disease?

The 4 A’s of AD are- Amnesia, Apraxia, Aphasia and Agnosia.

Amnesia is defined as the loss of memory, the inability to remember facts and events. There is the short-term memory and the long-term memory. AD affects the short-term memory storage first. Apraxia is the inability to perform pre-programmed motor tasks, such as everyday activities of brushing teeth, combing hair and so on. Sophisticated motor skills, such as skills learned during jobs are the first to be impaired, while with the progress of this disease, the skills learned during the developmental stages are affected. Aphasia is the inability to communicate effectively. An individual will forget words he had learned and will have increasing difficulty in communicating with others, while sometimes the person may be unable to understand spoken or written words or may read and not understand what is read. Sometimes, they may try to cover up aphasia and nod in agreement, in spite of not understanding what is being said. They may have trouble understanding words and grammar, but they may also understand non-verbal signs of communication such as a smile. Agnosia is the individual’s inability to correctly interpret signs and symbols from the five senses.  Individuals with AD may not recognize familiar objects and people of everyday life. A common yet unrecognized agnosia is the inability to appropriately perceive internal information such as a full bladder, chest pains and so on.

As if old age isn’t hard to deal with. Add to that, AD , something which takes away all the goodness one can have as a companion during the twilight years. Other major symptoms include auditory or visual hallucinations, delusions, verbal outbursts, a feeling of fear, anxiety, paranoia. Major personality changes include irritability, apathy, withdrawal and isolation. All these changes occur stage-by-stage during the entire progress of the disease. Every case of AD is different with individuals showing all or some of the above symptoms, but doctors have identified certain common symptoms for all. Typical warning signs include loss of memory of recent events, names and other recent information; struggling to remember everyday tasks; trouble in following conversations, instructions and so on; poor judgment when making decisions; trouble with complex tasks such as balancing the cheque book or handling money; changes in mood and personality such as increased suspicion, rapid and persistent mood swings, withdrawal and disinterest in everyday activities.

It is very important to detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s, so that proper treatment can be started and alleviate the discomfort as much as possible. Clinicians nowadays use brain scans, physical tests, case history and a host of other tests that measure memory retention, language and problem-solving skills and so on. Nowadays, detection of this disease is possible with up to 90% accuracy. Individuals with AD are likely to develop co-existing illnesses and are also likely to die from pneumonia. The disease typically progress over two to twenty years and individuals live at an average of eight to ten years from the time of diagnosis. Scientists have not yet found a concrete cause of AD, but some researches indicate that there is a strong link between heart diseases and diabetes with AD, along with a host of genetic, environmental and lifestyle causes that affect the functions of the brain. The risk of developing AD is increased by many conditions that damage the heart and blood vessels, including stroke, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for AD, though researches are still on. Good news is, some drugs have been approved by the US FDA for the effective treatment of AD.

Quite a grim and sad picture, isn’t it? Who knew that our memories, which we hold so dear to our lives, are worthless to mental disorders such as these. If only our pain was forgotten as easily as this. The only way to take care of our grandmothers, grandfathers or an elderly relative or neighbor is with patience and care. They probably won’t remember us or what we did, but we’ll remember them as being taken care of during the last few years of their lives.

 

Believer. Reader. Brooder.