A geriatrics specialist at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) says individuals over the age of 65 who have risk factors for heart disease may be more likely to develop changes in their brain that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and other related forms of dementia.
Speaking about World Alzheimer’s Day, Chairperson of Geriatrics and Long Term Care at HMC, Dr. Hanadi Khamis Al Hamad, said that Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. She said Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, a general term describing problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to the brain, account for up to 90 percent of dementia cases.
“Dementia is a broad term used to describe the symptoms of a large group of brain disorders that cause the loss of intellectual and social skills. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. In Alzheimer's disease, brain cells deteriorate and die, causing a steady decline in memory and mental function. Scientists believe that in most cases Alzheimer's disease is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors that affect the brain over time,” explained Dr. Al Hamad.
Dr. Al Hamad says many of the factors that increase an individual’s risk of developing heart disease can also increase their risk of dementia. She stresses the importance of watching for the early signs and symptoms of the disease and says that remaining active - physically, mentally, and socially - may help contribute to well-being and reduce one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
“Important factors that may increase one’s risk of heart disease include having high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, excess weight, and diabetes. However, eating a healthy diet comprised of vegetables, fruit, healthy oils, and foods low in saturated fat can reduce one’s risk of fatal cardiovascular disease and stroke. A healthy diet can also help reduce one’s risk of developing Alzheimer's disease,” said Dr. Al Hamad.
Dr. Al Hamad explains that the initial signs of Alzheimer’s disease can include increasing forgetfulness or mild confusion. She says the brain changes that occur in Alzheimer's disease can affect the way an individual acts and feels. Individuals with Alzheimer’s may experience depression, apathy, social withdrawal, mood swings, irritability and aggressiveness, changes in sleeping habits, loss of inhibitions, and paranoia.
“Over time, these signs may deteriorate into memory loss, especially recent memories. The rate at which symptoms worsen varies from person to person. However, Alzheimer’s main symptoms include memory loss, difficulty concentrating and thinking, making judgments and decisions, planning and performing familiar tasks, and changes in personality and behavior,” said Dr. Al Hamad.
In response to the country’s growing and aging population, HMC has made a number of enhancements to its geriatric service, including implementing specialist dementia care and patient and family education.
“We have a growing and aging population. Due to this reason, we are seeing an increasing number of Alzheimer’s cases diagnosed each year and we have three departments dedicated to caring for patients with memory problems – the Memory Clinic, under our Geriatric Services, the Department of Neuromedicine, and the Psychiatry Department,” said Dr. Al Hamad.
Dr. Al Hamad noted that the Memory Clinic, which is based in Rumailah Hospital, is staffed by a multidisciplinary team of geriatric specialists who carry out an assessment of any patient suspected of having dementia. She added that early diagnosis and the right treatment are important elements toward mitigating the symptoms of dementia and can help reduce the rate of deterioration of a patient’s cognitive function.
“Through early diagnosis and treatment, we can help patients with Alzheimer’s disease to experience a better quality of life. This is why we stress the importance of both early diagnosis and working with patients and their families at the onset of the disease,” added Dr. Al Hamad.
Dr. Al Hamad said treatment plans are individualized based on the needs of each patient and can include pharmacological treatment (medication) and non-pharmacological treatment (occupational therapy). She said clinical teams are also available to provide advice and respite support to families. She notes that caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be very stressful and exhausting, particularly in cases where patients have more severe behavioral problems.
Dr. Al Hamad urges anyone with a family member who they feel may be showing signs of unusual memory loss to get a referral from their primary healthcare provider to HMC’s Memory Clinic.
21 September is World Alzheimer’s Day, a day aimed at raising awareness of the disease and addressing the stigma that surrounds Alzheimer’s-related dementia. The theme for this year’s World Alzheimer’s Day is ‘Every 3 Seconds’, a reference to the global statistic that someone develops dementia every three seconds