By Joseph Hanna
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IT’S AN insidious disease
that starts out innocently
enough, with symptoms
that include common
incidents of the kind of
forgetfulness that affects
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all of us from time to time, but Alzheimer’s
disease is far from innocent in its effects. It is
estimated that the affliction affects half a million Canadians and 5 per cent of those over
65. January is a perfect month to learn more
about this devastating illness, dispel any
myths and find out how to battle this incurable and ultimately fatal disease.
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What should I know about this disease?
Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain by
causing the formation of dense deposits called
plaques as well as abnormal tangles throughout the organ. The result is that, over a period
of several years, brain cells die, the brain
shrinks and the affected person shows symptoms of dementia, as well as mood, behaviour
and personality changes. These symptoms
include consistent memory loss that affects
normal daily life more than occurs normally
to a person or, over time, with the aging process; difficulty with normal daily activity;
problems with speech; disorientation; misplacement of objects; and decreased judgment or abstract thinking.
While not all of the causes of this disease
have been definitively identified and the issue
still requires further study, the following factors have been linked to it: increasing age,
family history and genetic disorders, female
gender, diabetes, high blood pressure and
cholesterol, less than six years of formal education, obesity and head injury.
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Unfortunately, not enough is known
about reducing the risk of developing
Alzheimer’s, but the best method seems to be
leading a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a proper diet, staying physically active and
within a healthy weight range, maintaining
normal blood pressure and cholesterol, participating in social and mentally stimulating
activities, moderating alcohol intake, quitting
smoking, reducing stress and protecting your
head from injury.
What should I do if I suspect that a friend
or family member may have a problem?
Since Alzheimer’s often causes impairment in judgment, the person may be unaware
of his or her own symptoms. On the other