“You can close your eyes to realities, but not to memories”.
This brainy quote talks a lot about life and memories. Each cell of our body is a reservoir of memories – imprints of activities undergone within it. Memory roots are embedded in the folders of our brain. It is a well-organised biological entity.
A day comes, when the petals of memory start shedding off. The phenomenon when continues, leads to a chaos – medically labeled as dementia (loss of memory). Dementia has various kinds and forms of expression. A particular pattern with fairly understood pathology is called Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder which primarily affects a person’s memory. The ailment also influences higher mental functions such as thinking, reasoning, speech and so on, over the time. It thereby puts deep impacts on one’s personal, familial and social life.
Alzheimer’s disease is named after the physician, Dr. Alois Alzheimer in the year 1906, who first studied the changes in the brain tissue of a patient died with impaired memory and behavior. The disease is also called senile dementia, which accords the fact that almost 60 – 70% of dementia is attributed to this condition. Alzheimer’s disease is generally seen to manifest after the age of 60, with prevalence rate higher in females.
What causes the disease?
The reasons enlisted are hypothetical to a certain extent. However, familial/hereditary factors are observed to have considerable significance in the manifestation of the disease. Physical factors such as Obesity, Hypertension, Dyslipidemia and Diabetes Mellitus also play a role in this regard. Other reasons identified include lack of exercise, smoking and nutritional deficiencies.
Disease process in brief
The major change spotted in people with the disease is deposition of plaques (accumulation of protein) and tangles (twisted fibres of protein) in the brain, which disrupts the signaling between brain cells eventually leading to cell damage and death.
Alzheimer’s disease shows a slow advancement in three stages of progression- early, middle and late.
Onset of the disease is usually marked by short term memory loss. That is, inability to recollect events or activities of the recent past. People may also experience difficulties in remembering names or getting appropriate words. Misplacing or losing things is yet another problem during the early stage.
As the disease gains momentum, irritability, personality and behavioral issues start to surface gradually. Sleeplessness, delusions and suspiciousness are a few other changes which are likely to develop. It is in this stage that the person starts to be in need of assistance.
At the bitter end, patient becomes completely dependent with physical disabilities, not able to respond appropriately and loses sense of time and place even.
Alzheimer care begins with regular monitoring of changes in the functional and cognitive status as well as the co-morbidities of the patient.
Treatment orientation should be mainly towards enhancement of cognitive and motor functions, stabilisation of mood and behaviour, promotion of a safe environment. In short, the outcome expected would be in terms of a better manageability of the disease and an improved quality of life of the patient.
Fundamental therapeutic approach should ideally include an integrated medical care; with education and support for the care giver.
Non pharmacological therapies like lifestyle changes and dietary modification should be given importance. Added to this – medicines to address specific behavioural issues are also to be administered.
Therapeutic intervention can postpone the disease progression to a possible level. It is in this context that ayurvedic treatment gains pertinence. There are phytochemical studies which substantiate the efficacy of certain herbs in the control of neuronal degeneration. This aspect of ayurvedic drugs could pave way for modifying the disease process in an achievable manner.
Details of a few important drugs in this category are given below:
- Aswagandha (Withania somnifera) – This medicinal herb is known for its ability to slow down the loss of neuronal functions. The chemical constituents of Aswagandha are established as nervine tonics. It is a rejuvenative and adaptogenic medicine also.
- Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) – Brahmi is widely used in clinical practice as a memory enhancer, over many generations. The drug works as a therapeutic agent against Alzheimer’s disease for its nootropic and antioxidant activities.
- Sankhapushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis) – The drug is used as anti depressant and anxiolytic agent. It regulates the secretion of stress hormones.
- Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi) – This drug is relevant for its mood stabilizing and tranquilizing effect. The medicine would help address behavioural issues in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Jatamansi has a neuro-protective action too.
The science of Ayurveda puts forth a group of drugs titled ‘ Medhya Rasayana’ which are neuro-fortifiers in general. Medicine formulations constituting drugs of this class and similar spectrum may be included in the treatment regimen of the patient, under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.
Apart from oral medication, external oil application would help regulation of hormonal and circulatory systems, which would favor a functional activation of brain cells. Conduction of non-invasive classical ayurvedic oleation therapies like sirodhara/ siropichu are worth trying, provided the patient is medically fit for the same.
A relevant question could always be asked –
Is there a way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
The answer would be a ‘half yes’ – a partial possibility.
The measures of prevention could be narrowed down to four key answers – Exercise, Disciplined diet, Quality sleep and Active social life.