KARACHI: Experts at an online session held on Saturday underscored the need for proper guidance and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease – an irreversible and progressive brain disorder.

The event titled “Update on Alzheimer’s Disease” was organised by the Pakistan Society of Neurology (PSN) in collaboration with the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH).

Nine neurologists from three countries were in attendance at the event.

The World Health Organi­sation (WHO) has declared Sept 21 as the World Alzheimer’s Day to create awareness about the latest developments about the disorder and its treatment.

Explaining the disease, speakers said Alzheimer’s was the most common cause of dementia – a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.

Alzheimer’s, they said, was an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroyed memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out even the simplest tasks.

According to experts, various surveys show that about 50 million (m) population of the world are suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and as there is no cure for it and the number is expected to go up to 150m by 2050.

“The disease affects the elderly and currently 4.3 per cent of the population of Pakistan is over 60 years of age. Due to this, the number of dementia patients in the country is also increasing, so proper guidance and awareness is needed,” said Dr Abdul Malik, an associate professor of neurology at the Liaquat College of Medicine and Dentistry while speaking about the burden of dementia in Pakistan.

Risk factors

Presenting Alzheimer’s data in a global context, Dr Manmohan Singh from India said 50m Alzheimer’s patients had been diagnosed worldwide and the number was expected to reach 152m by 2050.

“The disease was discovered in 1906. Today, with each passing minute, one patient emerges. Aging is the leading cause of the disease while modern research has revealed three more risk factors, including alcohol use, air pollution and brain injuries.”

The United States alone, he pointed out, was spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the care and treatment of dementia patients where Alzheimer’s was considered as the sixth leading cause of death.

Dr Muhammad Wasay, head of the neurology department at the AKUH, said the treatment of Alzheimer’s was prolonged and if the treatment was not started in time, the disease became extre­mely severe in six to seven years.

“There are medications that only slow the progression of the disease a few years if the patient is being treated at an early stage. The most important thing with medicine in this disease is the family members who take proper care of the patient and prevent the disease from getting complicated. In this respect, we counsel patient’s family members so they can improve the quality of patient’s life with utmost respect,” he said.

Senior Prof Ejaz Vohra emphasised on patient care by strengthening the family system and social networks so that the children take care of their parents at home.

Dr Sajid Hameed of the AKUH explained the benefits of “Mini Mental State Examination” as a screening tool for early diagnosis of this disease all over the world.

Regarding the prevention of Alzheimer’s, Dr Salimullah said that a good early education of children also had an effect in preventing or eradicating the disease.

Presenting new research on the treatment of depression in Alzheimer’s disease, Dr Keira Joann from Singapore said the risk factors included depression, hypertension, obesity and smoking.

“For the treatment of depression, Vortioxetine has been found effective in treating depression in all the studies done till now.”

According to experts, the study of this drug in Pakistan is also in the stage of data analysis which will be very helpful in controlling depression with very few side-effects.

PSN president Dr Salim Barich and head of the psychiatry department of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre Prof Iqbal Afridi also spoke on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2020