I don’t know where the car keys are!
I don’t know what’s the current year or month.
I am going to go in the room if we have guests over.
These are common lines heard in the home of a patient with Alzheimer’s. How could this have started? Did the person show symptoms of depression in their childhood or did they appear later in life? Is there an early link we could establish to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s?
You must be wondering why you need to read this article. What’s in it for you? Well, you may be 30 or 80; it doesn’t matter since this condition can affect you anytime. Surprised? Here is a real life example of a man who started having symptoms resembling Alzheimer’s when he was 39 but wasn’t diagnosed until 10 years after. His name is Michael Ellenbogen. It all started with mild cognitive impairment – forgetting digits while dialing a number, showing up at the wrong time for meetings or skipping them altogether. He ignored it considering it to be a problem related to work or stress. When the doctors finally linked his behavioral changes to the disease, it came a shocker. Here was a man committed to exercise and healthy living. He was thin. Work as an entrepreneur kept him challenged. He was overwhelmed with the diagnosis but equally determined to find a solution. However he now advocates relentlessly for the disease since he wants to create a general awareness and remove the social taboo associated with it.
Just like any other illness, to become better, you need support and motivation from people around you. This can be best explained by none other than Scott, Barbara Windsor’s husband.
Sometimes depression leads to Alzheimer’s. The medical research has not been able to ascertain a 100 per cent positive link between Alzheimer’s and Depression. However if you are able to pick up these early signs leading to depression, you can most effectively treat depression. Signs such as losing interest in activities, isolation, social withdrawal, trouble concentrating, and impaired thinking, feeling sad, irritated and losing hope and trouble concentrating are very common when a person is depressed. Surprisingly, these are the exact same symptoms during Alzheimer’s.
A study aimed to draw a relation between Depression and Risk for Alzheimer’s disease came up with a conclusion that if you have had a history of depression, it might increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Thus, depression could be considered to be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease by increasing the chances by 50 per cent.
Depression damages your brain and if it is not cured it degenerates your brain. When you are depressed you produce high levels of the hormone Cortisol which has an adverse effect on the hippocampus which is ideally responsible for new learning and short-term memory. This adverse effect on the hippocampus could lead to Alzheimer’s.
Robert Wilson, a neuropsychologist at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago is of the opinion that, when a person undergoes depression, his brain is altered and due to this fundamental alteration, these people are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.
The American Academy of Neurology has the same opinion. When a person is depressed, an inflammation of the brain tissue and an increase in certain proteins in the brain are common effects which could again increase the chances of Alzheimer’s.
It is important to have a good balance between work and exercise. Further, it is a good idea to not ignore signs such as mood and behavioural changes as these signals of Alzheimer’s disease may show before the memory and cognitive changes take over. Lastly, there is no specific age for this disease. It generally affects in the older ages of 80-90 but then again, as already proved, it could affect younger generation as well.
So what do you do when Alzheimer’s hits you? Anthony Ayer feels that you just learn to live in the present. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when he was just 56. A few incidents which he describes as annoying made him go for a check-up. In a trip to Italy, he could not understand the words in a historical document he was reading. After coming home, he started forgetting things his wife use to tell him. Life after Alzheimer’s is not the way it was earlier. He needs constant reminders on his phone to eat his food or take his medicine.
The medication helps keeping the illness in control, but then again, you cannot be completely cured of it. Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 83. The disease kept on degrading his mental capacity until he stopped recognising a lot of people. He died in 2004 at the age of 93.
Lastly, it all comes down to simple choices. Lifestyle changes, healthy eating choices and positivity are key ingredients to a long and healthy life.
Published in final edited form as: Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 May; 63(5): 530- 538. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.63.5.530