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Alzheimer's Disease

21st September is celebrated as World Alzheimer Day in tribute to those to who suffer from it.

Every day I hear about some new disease, each scarier than the one before. And maybe they aren’t really that scary but it still frightens the hell out of me to imagine someone I know afflicted by that disease. But the thing about most diseases - even the fatal ones like cancer and AIDS - is that you can try and live your life normally to an extent. You can fight these diseases with courage. You suffer, you hurt but you never forget who or what you are.  And that eases your own suffering and that of people around you. 

But Alzheimer’s is different. It’s like the killer line from Hindi movies where the hero tells the villain that he’ll give him a slow, painful death. Alzheimer’s is that slow, painful death. This is how the internet might define Alzheimer’s for you. 

            “Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a serious brain disorder that impacts daily living through memory loss and cognitive changes.”

What it means is that it’s a disease that is incurable, gets progressively worse with time and slowly destroys your memories, makes you lose all control of your body functions and then ultimately kills you due to some external infection or something like that. It’s actually much, much worse than this. During the first stage of this disease you lose the ability to absorb new information. Past memories remain, but you start forgetting the recent things. You start fumbling with words, often substituting the wrong words in a sentence making you look like a fool. You feel irritated and angry and start withdrawing from the world. It gets worse with time and you slowly lose the ability to perform the most basic things. You forget your near and dear ones. The past, which was so clear till now, starts to fade from your memory until nothing is left there. In the end you are bed-ridden and completely dependent, until you die. And as you suffer, the people around you suffer thousand times more as they watch you get reduced to a shadow of who you were. 

Alzheimer’s affects 26 million people worldwide according to current stats. Most of these are elderly people above the age of 60. You have an average life expectancy of about 8 years after your symptoms become visible to everyone. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. There is not even a clear way to diagnose it. No single test exists to determine whether you suffer from it. It takes a wide variety and physical and cognitive tests to diagnose it. And more often than not it goes undiagnosed.
How is it caused? Why is it incurable? No one knows. Sure there are many theories put forward by researchers, loads of clinical trials are underway but as of now there is no cure.  

The worse thing about Alzheimer’s is the incredible about of trauma that the family or close friends experience. It kills you to see someone you’ve have known all your life suddenly tell you that they have no idea who you are, to see them so angry and irritated by your mere presence. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen. And you can never expect what is going to happen or when it’s going to happen, because one moment they’re absolutely fine, reminiscing about the past, telling stories of their heydays and the next moment they’re gone, unable to recognize you.  And then it hurts even more when you see them completely helpless on their own and dependent on others for daily activities-things we take for granted. Proud men and women, who taught you how to live, reduced to being confused and bewildered.

I can’t write any more of this depressing stuff. I’ve seen someone suffer from dementia, and even though it was never diagnosed as Alzheimer’s, I can imagine what AD would feel like. My objective is not to scare you, but to tell you that AD is a very serious medical condition which often goes undiagnosed due to our ignorance. While it is incurable, there are ways in which it can be delayed and maybe even prevented. Please do go read up about Alzheimer’s and spread awareness about it. You might end up making someone’s life a lot better.  


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