World Alzheimer's Day, 21 September 2019

ADI

"World Alzheimer's Month is the international campaign by Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI) every September to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia."

IQVIA is one of World Alzheimer’s Month Campaign Sponsors

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Every four seconds, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It's the most common cause of dementia, affecting over 40 million people worldwide.

Dementia isn't technically a disease, but more of a way to descibe a set of sympthoms like poor memory and difficulty learning new information, which can make it really hard to dunction independeltly. Usually dementia's caused by some sort of damage to the cells in the brain, which can be caused by a variety of diseases. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer's disease is considered a neurodegenerative disease, meaning it causes the degeneration or loss of neurons in the brain. Particularly in the cortex.

What is the main cause of Alzheimer's?

The cause of Alzheimer's disease isn't completely understood. Scientists believe that for most people, Alzheimer's disease is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors.

Age

The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is advanced age. While age increases risk, it is not a direct cause of Alzheimer's. Most individuals with the disease are 65 and older. After age 65, the risk of developing Alzheimer's doubles every five years. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent. According to United Nations (UN) report - "World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights":

In 2018, for the first time in human history, persons aged 65 years or over outnumbered children under five years of age worldwide. Between 2019 and 2050, the number of persons aged 65 or over globally is projected to more than double, while the number of children under five is projected to remain relatively unchanged. Consequently, the projections indicate that in 2050 there will be more than twice as many older persons as children under five.

Consequently, the number of individuals with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia is increasing every year because of the steady growth of the older population. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the total number of people with dementia is projected to reach 82 million in 2030 and 152 million million in 2050.

Genetics

There are two types of Alzheimer's early-onset and late-onset. Both types have a genetic component.

Early-Onset Alzheimer's Very rare
Usually caused by gene changes passed down from parent to child
Can begin when people are in their 30s, 40s, or 50s
Late-Onset Alzheimer's Most common type
May involve a gene called APOE ɛ4
More common in people over the age of 65

Learning about your family health history may help you know if you are at increased risk for certain diseases or medical conditions, like Alzheimer's disease.

More information about this infographic can be found here. Infographic about Alzheimer's genetics

Environmental factors

Certain environmental factors, like exposure to toxic chemicals and brain injury, have long been known to increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease. A nutritious diet, physical activity, social engagement, and mentally stimulating pursuits have all been associated with helping people stay healthy as they age. These factors might also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

According to neuroscientist and novelist Lisa Genova in her fascinating TED talk states that in the Nun Study scientists draw the following conclusion:

People who have more years of formal education, who have a high degree of literacy, who engage regularly in mentally stimulating activities, all have more cognitive reserve.

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is tough because the only way to definitively show that a person had Alzheimer's is by performing a brain biopsy after autopsy. Usually, the clinician will make a diagnosis after excluding other causes of dementia.

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Some medications exist, but the benefits are small. There haven't been any medications that clearly and definitively halt the progression of Alzheimer's.

Here is a TED talk, by Dr. Bernard Hanseeuw in TEDxUCLouvain, I highly recommend.

The final goal

As Lisa Genova emphasises:

Diagnosis does not mean you are dying tomorrow. Keep living! You won't lose your emotional memory. You'll still be able to understand love and joy ... You are more than what you can remember!

Recommending

Dear Alzheimer's: A Diary of Living with Dementia

What you can do?!

Get Involved! The 2019 campaign materials can be downloaded here.

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Leyla Nunez
Statistician

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