Alzheimer’s, the neurodegenerative disease with the most victims in the world

  • Data from the Ministry of Health confirms that in Mexico it affects more than one million 300 thousand people over 65 years of age

Alzheimer’s affects the memory, thinking and behavior of people who suffer from it. It is the main cause of dementia in adults over 65 years of age, and although there has been numerous progress in research into this brain disorder, to date there is still no effective treatment or cure. It is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and is responsible for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases in general in the population.

The increase in life expectancy and the aging process that the world population is currently experiencing are the main risk factors for developing this type of disorders, the researcher from the Faculty of Higher Studies Iztacala, UNAM, states in an interview. Ana Seubert Ravelo.

It is estimated that globally more than 60 million people over 65 years of age live with Alzheimer’s, of which 8.1 percent are women and 5.1 percent are men. While in Mexico, according to figures from the Ministry of Health, it is estimated that more than one million 300 thousand suffer from it, a figure that represents 60 to 70 percent of dementia diagnoses in said population, continues the clinical neuropsychologist.

It mentions that although between 60 and 80 percent of dementia cases are caused mainly by Alzheimer’s disease, between five and 10 percent of dementia cases are also caused by vascular pathology (mainly small cerebral infarcts); while in a relevant quantity there is a mixture of both pathologies.

On the occasion of World Alzheimer’s Day, which is commemorated on September 21, the university researcher specifies that senile dementia does not exist, since age by itself is not the cause of it; “There must be a disease that triggers it: one of them and the main one is Alzheimer’s, followed by vascular cognitive impairment.”

The specialist in Parkinson’s and dementia points out that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, but rather the result of complex changes in the brain that begin years before symptoms appear and that cause the loss of neurons and their connections. It is necessary to analyze each case to identify what causes it and give the best possible treatment.

However, it is abundant, it can also manifest before the age of 65, considered early onset, a rare form of dementia whose symptoms usually manifest between the ages of 35 and 50, a smaller percentage of these cases are classified as familial or genetic. “The younger the age at which this pathology begins, the greater the probability that there is some important genetic factor that triggers it, which means a much faster progression and a shorter life expectancy.”

Usually those with early onset have a significant genetic component: family history, parents, siblings, uncles or grandparents affected by a gene that is transmitted from one generation to another.

In its initial phases, it is characterized by cognitive deficits and difficulties in creating new memories, “it becomes increasingly generalized; We usually see that the affected person begins to become repetitive, that is, they repeat the same conversations and questions, they do not remember recent events such as what they had for breakfast or what happened yesterday; while he preserves very well the memories from years ago, for example from his youth or his childhood.”

Initially, long-term memory is preserved, while short-term memory is affected; Executive functions also begin to be damaged, which implies all these abilities to adapt to novel or high-demand situations, we begin to see that the person loses the ability to make decisions in complex situations and their planning ability decreases. Another early sign of the condition includes changes in mood, the presence of apathy and irritability.

As the disease progresses, the university specialist details, damage is observed in other cognitive domains such as visuospatial function, that is, the ability to tell where objects are in space, difficulties in voluntary motor coordination and language increase. , memory impairment becomes more prominent.

He points out that there are a series of risk factors for suffering from it. Although the main ones are age and the presence of certain risk genes, there are other factors that can be modifiable. Among them, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, consumption of junk food, depression and social isolation, smoking, as well as head injuries that could generate neurological sequelae.

However, he says, although aging is a risk factor, you can age in a healthy way and although this disease and other related dementias are not inevitable in this process, it is possible to delay them and give those affected quality of life through physical activity and, from an early age, promote vascular health, that is, reduce factors of hypertension and heart disease.

In addition, maintain a balanced diet such as the Mediterranean, for example, high in white fish, seeds and olive oil, as well as maintain a healthy weight and maintain social activity. “Keeping ourselves mentally and socially active are situations that increase cognitive reserve, that is, there is a greater connection between neurons and, in the face of a neurodegenerative disease, allows us to have a little more resistance to it to prevent it from becoming a clinical problem,” alimit.

According to Seubert Ravelo, it is necessary to improve the education and knowledge of the population about this type of mental illness. When we observe small changes in memory, behavior and mood in a family member over 65 years of age, immediately go to a specialist, in this case a neurologist, because we often think that they are normal due to age, but that is a misconception.