Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1223, (27 November - 3 December 2014)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1223, (27 November - 3 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Memory — So powerful, so frail

Fear, according to Darwin, is one of our basic emotions. It waxes and wanes according to conditions, events and the times. Ancient man feared the unknown as we still do. He feared the darkness of night, predatory animals, Nature’s wrath, and evil... He created his own gods to protect him.

Fear has been preserved throughout evolution. The threat of living in a constantly  unpredictable environment, threatened by  terrorists, Monstrous Brotherhood, (MB), ISIS and genocidal maniacs, stalking us daily  is ever more reason for anxiety and fear. Our perpetual fear however, is death and disease.

The most feared disease today, even among the young (18-34) is Alzheimer’s. Even certain Cancers can be cured, but there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, not even effective treatment. Alzheimer is a progressive disease of the brain that slowly impairs memory and cognitive function. Devastatingly sad, all it offers is  a slow deterioration of mind and body, heart and soul.

Early detection and diagnosis is a risk- reducer of co- morbid conditions. Cognitive impairment can be reversed in some cases, but half the population does not know they have the disease. Nearly 89 per cent of Americans say that they are exhibiting confusion and memory loss, but have never been checked.

The statistics we have from The Alzheimer’s Association of America reports that the disease has reached epidemic proportions with 5.4 million sufferers. By 2050 it is expected to jump to 16 million.  In 20 years it will affect one in four Americans.  The numbers elsewhere should not differ much. Someone develops Alzheimer’s every 69 seconds.  In 20 years it will be reduced to 33 seconds.

A common misconception is that Alzheimer’s is only a disease of age, 60 and up. More than 5 per cent between ages 40-50 have an early onset, with a life-span that varies from two to 20 years.  As it progresses, victims have not the slightest conception of the sinister truth of their predicament. Like slaves, they are locked in a jail of mind and soul, with no freedom, no grief, no joy, no hope. They gaze steadily with mournful eyes into total emptiness.

Alzheimer’s is often mistaken for Dementia. Dementia is not a disease. It is a group of symptoms that affect mental tasks like memory or reasoning.  An age-related condition, Dementia is caused by degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington and Alzheimer’s as well as infectious diseases, stroke, depression and chronic drug abuse. 

German physician Alois Alzheimer was the first to link the symptoms of Alzheimer’s after an autopsy which showed shrinkage and abnormal deposits in and around the nerve cells. This was only revealed under a microscope in 1906, following the death of his haunting case of Auguste D who had profound memory- loss, confusion and unfounded suspicions, worsening gradually till the end.

Alzheimer’s cannot be diagnosed with complete accuracy except after death, using a microscopic- examination of the brain tissue.

In 1910 German psychiatrist Emil Kraeplin was the first to call the disease “Alzheimer’s”, in his book “Psychiatrie”.

They say ‘prevention is better than cure’, so be it. Dozens of researchers and scientist have united in finding a method of preventing the disease, and there is hope. Mice have been injected with ‘beta-amyloid’ which prevents plaques and other brain damages. If it works on mice, will it work on men?

Alzheimer’s hits whenever and whoever it pleases, prince or pauper, at age 80 or 40. It has ravaged innumerable celebrities and great talents during the last quarter-century, most prominent among them is the 40th president of the US, Ronald Reagan, who announced his affliction two years after leaving office, thus raising awareness for the disease.

He declared November as ‘National Alzheimer’s Awareness’ month.

Other celebrities, victims of Alzheimer’s include, actors Dana Andrews, Charlton Heston, Charles Bronson, Rita Hayworth, James Stewart and Peter Falk, (Colombo); movie directors Vincente Minelli, Otto Preminger; writers, Enid Blyton, Iris Murdoch; painters Norman Rockwell, Willem de Koonig; singers Perry Como, Glenn Campbell; British P M Harold Wilson; Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater; fashion designer Louis Feraud; boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and the sad list goes on.

Is there any hope?  “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Watch for early signs… memory loss, mood- swings, withdrawing from society, difficulty in reading etc. Prof David Graves of UCSB, (University of California, Santa Barbara) describes it thus: “It is like a sunburn, a form of oxidative damage. A hat protects from oxidation. Here are a few hats that can help:

‘Cinnamaldehyde’ protects the ‘tau’ protein. Some believe Alzheimer’s is a form of brain diabetes. Insulin is crucial for learning and memory. Cinnamon is beneficial on blood glucose management in Type 2 diabetes. The Vitamin B family, 2,6,12, reduced shrinkage in areas known to be affected by Alzheimer’s.

The usual suspects, hypertension, mid-life-obesity and diabetes are risks for Alzheimer’s

Dr David Smith of Oxford University believes that the B treatment is the first and only disease-modifying treatment that worked. “We have proved the concept that you can modify the disease.”

Exposure to general anesthesia in the elderly increases Alzheimer’s risk by 35 per cent. Keep sugar and fructose to a minimum; improve magnesium levels; optimise Vitamin D; follow diet rich in vegetables, raw, every day; include Omega 3 fats; challenge your mind by learning new language, new instrument, building up brain makes it less susceptible to Alzheimer’s lesions. Ghinkgo Biloba and coconut oil are memory boosters.

The time to prevent Alzheimer’s is yesterday.

“God gave us memory that we might have roses in December”

Sir James M Barrie (1860-1937)

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