Breakthroughs in science and medicine are remarkably fast, and researchers are becoming quick to unveil the mysteries shrouding several illnesses. However, some answers still evade scientists. Alzheimer’s disease still remains largely unexplained. Still, the power may be in our hands to lessen the chances of incurring this awful disease, if we change certain aspects of our lifestyle.
The disease, discovered in 1906 by German scientist, Alois Alzheimer, currently affects one in 25 of the age group 65 to 74 years, with one in five of the over-85s suffering to some extent. It is not contagious and the hereditary factor represents only 0.03% of cases. According to data published by the World Health Organisation it is estimated that around 18 million people worldwide live with Alzheimer disease. This number is predicted to duplicate by the year 2025 to 34 million, and much of the increase will be in the developing countries, as currently 50 per cent of people with Alzheimer live in developing countries, a percentage that will increase to 70 per cent by 2025.
"One of the descriptions that we usually use to shed light on the disease is: ‘it’s not when you forget where the key is, but rather when you forget what the key is supposed to do.’ It has become part of our jobs to urge people to banish the secrecy and stigma surrounding this issue and reassure them that Alzheimer’s is a problem that we can coexist with," says Dr Nadia Nazeer, neuropsychiatrist and psychologist. She stresses that, unfortunately, in Egypt, families of patients have to deal with the disease as a taboo. She adds, “A lot of people come to us seeking how to deal with the issue psychologically, but unfortunately, others lack this kind of awareness.”
Although particular causes are still unclear, junk food and malnutrition have always been regarded as culprits.
Dr Fawzi El-Shubaki, professor of nutrition at the National Research Institute states that those addicted to eating foods high in saturated fat, such as fast foods, are at a much greater risk of developing atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries), which is considered a possible cause of the disease.
Long term; atherosclerosis restricts blood and, therefore. oxygen flow. Brain cells can then gradually die and when this happens to the part of the brain responsible for memory symptoms of Alzheimer’s can begin to appear.
To avoid this, Dr El-Shubaki advocates eating antioxidant-rich foods. These include those that contain vitamin C. For example: lemons, guavas and bell peppers. He also suggests eating foods containing beta-carotene, a primary source of vitamin A, such as carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. He stresses also the importance of vitamin H as an anti-oxidant, found profusely in corn oil and olive oil.
As for minerals, Dr El-Shubaki says that some of them have a role in the formation of anti-oxidising enzymes. Zinc and selenium fight free radicals and both are found in vegetables and whole grains.
Experts also say that for the over 65s, exercising at least three times a week should decrease their chances of experiencing mental decline and dementia by 38 per cent. They also claim it is helpful to perform mentally challenging tasks and to try to learn new things. Controlling blood pressure, avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough rest are also thought to be helpful.