The symptoms of cerebral arteriosclerosis, as they advance, are referred to as “senile dementia” by doctors. It is not a very attractive term, and other more euphonious ones are often used. Nobody likes to think of a parent as being “demented.” In recent years, another term has come into popular use. It is called Alzheimer’s disease. Some doctors describe it as the same as senile dementia, with similar causes. Others claim it is a separate, unrelated disease, even though symptoms are often similar or identical.
It is not new, having first been described by Dr Alois Alzheimer, a neurologist born in Poland in 1864. He was the first to accurately describe the disorder.
Like dementia, it afflicts ageing persons, often in their 60s. In fact, figures indicate that with the advancing age of the population in general, vast numbers of patients with this diagnosis will keep occurring well into the foreseeable future.
These often come on suddenly, in persons who may have been very mentally alert. It seems to afflict anybody. Gradual or fairly sudden memory loss, inability to recall events, even recent ones, unable to utter certain words and phrases, seeing things, but unable to describe them, becoming annoyed easily and irritable, bad-tempered and even violent, are common symptoms.
There is often rapid deterioration, lack of care for oneself and personal appearance, forgetting most things in life, and withdrawing into oneself, are common. This usually requires total nursing care in bed or hospital.
The cause of the disease is unknown. It may be related to reduced cerebral circulation. Aluminum poisoning of the cerebral cells has been cited often. Others claim an infection, for at autopsy certain particles have been discovered in the brain cells of these patients. It is claimed it may be genetically predetermined, and seeking a certain chromosome in developing babies could foretell if the disease will occur – all a bit late for the patient and immediate offspring.
One day we will probably have the complete picture as to the cause, and likewise the cure. At present neither is known. It is a progressive, downhill disorder that usually ends up in a nursing home for incurables. Total attention to the patient’s needs, nutrition and encouragement are essential.
Alzheimer support units abound, and relatives are recommended to contact the nearest one for support, advice and general cooperation, with a difficult disease and usually a difficult patient.