Alzheimer's or old age?


Posted at Oct 10 2011 07:21 PM | Updated as of Oct 11 2011 06:42 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Memory loss, confusion, irritability and aggression may be natural signs of aging, but these may also be symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, a debilitating condition that slowly destroys a person's ability to carry out the simplest tasks.

So how do we know the difference?

According to neurologist and neuropathologist Dr. Patricio Reyes, it is all about how these symptoms affect a person's daily activities.

If the sudden mood swings and memory lapses are starting to take a toll on a person's social and professional life, these might be worth a second look, he said.

"We all forget things here and there. We may have a little difficulty with what we have to do. But these do not necessarily affect our activities," Reyes said in an interview on ANC's "Headstart" on Monday.

"But if the symptoms recur and they affect socialization, professional work and activities of daily living, they're no longer the normal symptoms of the aging process."

Today, millions are known to have Alzheimer's, and scientists and physicians are working together to untangle the factors that result in the disease.

Reyes said that so far, the symptoms can be classified as:

  • having difficulty doing their daily tasks, from household chores to balancing checkbooks
  • personality changes, from depression to irritability
  • memory loss, problems with comprehension and difficulty finding the right words

"Symptoms evolve very slowly so it's very hard to detect the earliest manifestations," he said.

Risk factors

Reyes said genetics accounts for only 3% to 5% of Alzheimer's disease today, adding that "the most common risk factor is advance in age."

Other risk factors include diabetes, hypertension and head trauma.

"Alzheimer's is an age-related disease that affects the middle-aged and the elderly. The expected risk starts from 10% when we are 65. When we turn 80 and beyond, it would rise to 50%," he explained.

Scientists and physicians have yet to identify the root cause of Alzheimer's. In the meantime, Reyes said advised people of all ages to have a healthy lifestyle and to avoid risk factors to lower the chances of getting this disease.

"The medicines available right now are simply designed to replenish what is lacking, to simply delay the process of the symptoms. But it doesn't reverse the effects of the disease," he said.