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Beyond Forgetfulness: A Closer Look At Alzheimer’s Disease And The Path To Early Diagnosis — Dr Teh Hoon Lang

World Alzheimer’s Day is an opportunity to explore the realm of Alzheimer’s Disease, debunk misconceptions, and offer insights into early detection and effective care.

The journey of diagnosing and managing dementia is challenging for people with the disease, caregivers and health care professionals. Picture courtesy of Sunway Medical Centre.

In a world where medical advancements continue to push boundaries, it’s essential to shine a light on conditions that can drastically impact lives.

World Alzheimer’s Day calls for just that — an opportunity to explore the realm of Alzheimer’s Disease, debunk misconceptions, and offer insights into early detection and effective care.

“Dementia is not a normal part of ageing; it’s a complex brain function impairment set that interferes with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease, a common type of dementia, is a progressive brain disorder characterised by the buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain and leading to gradual decline of memory, thinking, and reasoning skills.

“Early detection and understanding are key to navigating this challenging journey. According to some studies, over 8.5 per cent of Malaysians aged 60 and above have dementia, with a higher prevalence among women,” said Dr Teh Hoon Lang, consultant geriatrician at Sunway Medical Centre.

This neurological condition will get worse over time, but not all dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease. There are other diseases that can contribute to it, including vascular dementia, mixed dementia, Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia, and others. 

Detecting Early Signs 

According to Dr Teh, the early symptoms of dementia can be mild and may go unnoticed. Many people may assume these symptoms as part of the normal ageing process.

However, if the symptoms start to affect one’s daily life, it could then be contrued as warning signs of dementia.

Early signs of dementia are as below:  

  • Recent memory loss, such as being unable to recall recent events or appointments.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems such as following a recipe, managing their finances, or managing their own medicine. 
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks such as cooking, driving  or using appliances.
  • Confusion with time or place where they may lose track of the date, time, or where they are. They may also get lost in familiar places.
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships like difficulty understanding maps or following directions. They may also have trouble judging distances or determining the size of objects.
  • Problems with language, such as difficulty finding the right words or using the wrong words during communication.
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. People with Dementia may frequently misplace things and forget where they put them. They may also have difficulty retracing their steps.
  • Decreased or poor judgement where they may make poor decisions, such as giving away large sums of money or insisting on driving when they are no longer fit to drive. 
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities that they used to enjoy. They may also become isolated and avoid interacting with others.
  • Changes in mood or personality such as becoming depressed, anxious, or irritable. They may also experience personality changes, such as becoming more passive or withdrawn.

Risk Factors 

Dr Teh also shares some risk factors that contribute to dementia. These include: 

  • Physical inactivity, or the lack of regular physical activity.
  • Smoking.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Head or traumatic head injuries, such as those from accidents, sports, or falls.
  • Infrequent social contact and isolation. It is encouraged that people, especially elders, to stay socially active, such as joining clubs or community groups.
  • Less or low levels of education in early life can affect cognitive reserves.
  • Obesity (especially in mid-life). Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can help mitigate this risk.
  • Hypertension also contributes to other health problems, and managing it may help reduce the risk of dementia.
  • Diabetes (primarily Type 2 diabetes) is a known risk factor for future dementia. Effective management of diabetes is important for overall health and dementia risk reduction.
  • Depression is associated with an increased risk of dementia, which may be both a precursor and a consequence of dementia.
  • Hearing impairment or individuals with hearing loss can lead to a significantly higher risk of dementia. Hearing aids may help reduce this risk, making addressing hearing impairment crucial in dementia prevention efforts.

Importance Of Early Diagnosis 

“According to guideline, routine cognitive screening isn’t recommended for everyone, it’s only recommended to screen people at risk. However cognitive screening is not 100 per cent accurate, hence, it’s crucial to educate the public about the early warning signs of dementia.

“Some conditions that mimic dementia, such as vitamin B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism, are potentially reversible if treated early. This is why it is important to see a doctor for an assessment as soon as possible, as early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent or delay irreversible brain damage,” emphasised Dr Teh.

The journey of diagnosing and managing dementia is very challenging for people with the disease, caregivers, and health care professionals.

Dr Teh said that non-pharmacological treatments would be the mainstay of management approach that caregivers and health care professionals need to learn, aiming to provide a better quality of life for persons with dementia. 

 Dr Teh Hoon Lang is a consultant geriatrician at Sunway Medical Centre.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.

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