Advancing Alzheimer’s awareness
The lab environment has become increasingly stressful of late, with technicians having to contend with issues including reducing numbers in the profession, financial pressures for those providing NHS dental appliances, not to mention the pandemic causing many to be put on furlough or made redundant. With the stresses and strains of the job looming large, being mindful of your overall health is vital so you can protect yourself, and continue to provide quality work.
September was World Alzheimer’s Month, so we thought we’d use this time to remind you of the statistics surrounding the disease. For example, more than 520,000 people in the UK have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease, making it the most common cause of dementia. In fact, annual reports suggest that dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK, overtaking heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.
Knowing its prevalence, it can be useful to be aware of the signs and things you can do to prevent the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, so you can stay fighting fit.
Risk factors and prevention
While age is not a direct cause of Alzheimer's, the risk does increase over the years and most people with the disease are 65 and older. Family history is also a strong risk factor. Those who have a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease and the risk increases if more than one family member is affected. Genes are also proven to be involved in Alzheimer’s.
Certain lifestyle choices can impact on the chances of developing dementia as well. While exercise, mental stimulation, maintaining a healthy weight, and socialising might help to protect against dementia, smoking and drinking too much alcohol can increase the risk. Other factors include Down’s syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and head injuries (although more research is needed in this area).
Below are some steps that can be taken to reduce the risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease:
- Regular physical activity. Try a brisk walk during your lunch break, and aim to get up from your seat at frequent intervals during the day.
- A healthy, balanced diet. A pre-prepared work lunch including a good proportion of the NHS-advised daily levels of fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, and protein can support this.
- Don’t smoke and cut back on alcohol. Smoking does a lot of harm to the circulation of blood around the body, including the blood vessels in the brain. viii Drinking too much alcohol also increases your risk of developing dementia. viii It is advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week, and to spread drinking over at least three days if you often meet this limit.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Dementia can involve a range of symptoms and develop over a number of years.
At early onset of Alzheimer’s, the following typical symptoms may arise:
- Memory problems such as regularly forgetting recent events, names, and faces.
- Becoming progressively repetitive, e.g. repeating questions after a very short interval.
- Regularly putting items in odd places, or misplacing them.
- Being confused about the date or time.
- Have problems communicating.
As the disease develops, symptoms may include: xi
- Worsening ability to remember, think, and make decisions.
- Finding communication more challenging.
- Having difficulty identifying familiar faces or household objects.
- Requiring more support with day-to-day tasks.
- Becoming anxious, seeking extra reassurance, and experiencing depression.
If there are concerns about any of the symptoms above it is always a good idea to make an appointment with your GP to carry out some simple checks. Memory problems could indicate another less serious condition, but it’s sensible to have these checked out.
At present there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but there is medication on offer that can temporarily reduce the symptoms. Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors increase levels of acetylcholine, a substance in the brain that helps nerve cells communicate with each other and are often prescribed in early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s. Memantine works by blocking the effects of an excessive amount of a chemical in the brain called glutamate xii and is used for moderate or severe Alzheimer’s disease.
Non-drug treatments aimed at improving quality of life include types of cognitive therapy used to stimulate thinking skills and engage those with dementia. Other examples are aromatherapy, music therapy, or multi-sensory stimulation to address symptoms of depression, anxiety, or agitation associated with the later stages of the disease. xiii
Take time for you
The increased stress many lab owners and dental technicians will have experienced in recent times provides even more reason for individuals to take time to look after themselves, physically and mentally. World Alzheimer’s Month is a timely reminder for us all to be more mindful of our overall health, and take care that we adopt a healthy lifestyle wherever possible to minimise our risk of serious illness in the future.
For more tips on how to optimise your health and that of your business, don’t miss the Dental Technology Showcase (DTS) 2022 next May! You’ll be able to get up-to-date with the latest new, technologies and materials in the profession, gaining verifiable CPD while networking with friends and colleagues from across the profession.