During the pandemic, there was a 10% increase in the number of people diagnosed in Mexico, due to lockdown.
It’s not normal to have memory problems, having trouble remembering, finding the right word, or your way around. What is Alzheimer’s? We explain some of the causes and symptoms.
Every September 21, World Alzheimer’s Day is commemorated to raise awareness about this disease.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia. It’s a progressive and degenerative disease that has no cure.
“Dementia robs millions of people of their memories, independence and dignity, but it also robs the rest of us of the people we know and love,” says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dementias affect the brain in areas such as memory, thinking, and behavior, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These can include:
In 2021, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s increased. According to official reports, 1,225 more Mexicans were diagnosed with this disease, a figure 10% higher than the previous year, and it’s estimated that lockdown worsened symptoms for patients already diagnosed.
“Isolation impaired the cognitive function of patients who already had initial symptoms of this disease —mild cognitive impairment— due to being isolated or not being able to interact socially. They’ve now been diagnosed with dementia,” says neurologist Dr. Carlos Manuel Guerra Galicia, a specialist in Abnormal Movements and Dementias and degenerative disease Cognition and Behavior.
In addition, the specialist says that a significant percentage of patients have cognitive failures after Covid.
“We’ve seen shorter attention spans and slower mental processing speed. We still don’t know if Covid-19 as an infectious agent that causes inflammation of the brain will contribute to the increase in frequency of cases of dementia, in particular Alzheimer’s or degenerative diseases, but we do have to keep studying it,” he says.
“If we have any suspicions about ourselves, family members, or friends, we must be assessed by a specialist. They’ll do a screening test and evaluate whether people have normal cognitive performance, if they’re in a stage of mild deterioration, or are already in a more complex stage called dementia syndrome,” says Carlos Manuel Guerra Galicia, Director of PRISMA, an Interdisciplinary Treatment Center for Parkinson’s, Abnormal Movements, and Dementias at the Faculty of Psychology of the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí (UASLP).
If the disease is detected in time, there are many interventions that can delay deterioration such as cognitive stimulation or drug therapies to try to improve cognitive function.
The causes of this disease are still unknown, but we now know that there’s a mutation which can facilitate the appearance of certain proteins —tau and beta-amyloid— that aren’t normal.
These are deposited unevenly on neurons and eventually cause the neurons to die.
And a very small percentage, less than 10%, is due to genetic causes.
“Although we still don’t know the exact causes of the disease, we do know what the modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors are,” says the neurologist.
The modifiable factors that put the population at risk are:
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, it’s estimated that one in three of us will see this disease in a loved one or family member, and this is largely due to modifiable risk factors.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that the number of people diagnosed with the disease has increased by 10% in the midst of the pandemic.
The WHO estimates that there will be 139 million people in the world with Alzheimer’s by the year 2050.
In Mexico, more than 350,000 people suffer from it. Every year, it causes the deaths of 2,030 patients.
“It’s important that, in addition to an early diagnosis, the population reduces modifiable risk factors, so that we eliminate –in some way– the possibilities of developing the disease,” says the specialist.
Other risk factors that aren’t modifiable:
“Alzheimer’s has no cure but attending to it in time helps make the disease easier to treat and more stable for those who live closely with it. Therefore, we have to give guidance to caregivers so that they know how to approach patients when they’re irritable and also create support networks so that they don’t get exhausted,” recommends Dr. Guerra.
Treatment is multidisciplinary, taking into account different areas of health and technology.
In Mexico, there are medications for people with this condition to improve cognitive function and regulate behavioral function to stimulate the neural pathways.
These drugs are always accompanied by cognitive exercises, such as dancing or exercise to enhance the response.
The latest treatment proven to treat the disease is a rivastigmine patch that has been shown to reduce the work of caregivers from 40.3% to 10.3%, according to data from a study published by the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information.