KARACHI: A healthy diet and regular visits to the gym are known to ward off obesity and heart diseases, but along with an ‘active’ brain, they can also prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
People who engage in reading, playing board games, completing crossword puzzles and other intellectual activities, are less likely to develop the disease, said members of the Pakistan Society of Neurology at a press conference on Wednesday.
Dr Muhammad Wasay, the associate professor at the Aga Khan University Hospital’s (AKUH) department of neurology, said that Alzheimer’s or dementia is a neurological disease which is characterised by progressive loss of memory and social functioning.
According to the doctors, the press conference was organised because people are still not aware of the disease even though it is increasing globally. Even the general practitioners cannot catch the symptoms sometimes as they do not have sufficient information about the disorder, said Dr Wasay.
Exact data about how many patients have been diagnosed is not available in Pakistan, said Prof. Saad Shafqat, the head of neurology department at AKUH. “We can still estimate that Pakistan has the same number as India and Iran, where almost 7 per cent people above the age of 65 and around 10 to 15 per cent above the age of 80 have dementia.” But people should not make the mistake of associating the disease with ageing, clarified Shafqat.
The society plans to arrange a walk on Friday followed by a Continuing Medical Education seminar for doctors. The doctors have also recorded an 11-episode programme which will be aired on TV and posted on YouTube.
Symptoms and treatment
The inability to remember day-to-day activities are one of the early on signs of Alzheimer’s, said Dr Wasay. “The disease can be an immense social burden, as the erratic behaviour of an Alzheimer’s patient can disturb the entire family.”
The psychiatric symptoms may include agitation, lack of sleep and aggressive behaviour.
Dr Muhammad Shahid Mustafa, consultant neurologist at AKUH, said that the disease can be identified through simple methods. “The first sign is when the family complains of the patient’s memory loss. It is followed by checking the patient’s history and if needed, doctors run tests such as the MRI or CT scan.”
Once identified, Mustafa said that the most important factor is training and counseling family members. Medicines are also easily available in the country but the treatment cost may vary from a few hundred rupees to Rs10,000 per month. “It is, however, a degenerating disorder so the medicines do not halt or cure the disease but can slow down its progress,” explained Mustafa. Conditions that affect the human brain, such as strokes, head injuries and brain infections, are more vulnerable to an attack, added Shafqat.
Dr Naila Shahbaz, the head of neurology department at Dow University of Health Sciences, said that while there are no direct links to the disease, the lack of vitamins B1, B6 and especially B12, might cause weaknesses similar to Alzheimer’s.
Shahbaz advised people to adopt a healthy lifestyle to keep the mind and body fit.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2012.