A closer look at Alzheimer’s disease

Photo used for illustration purposes only.

KUALA LUMPUR – World Alzheimer’s Day which falls on Sept 21 every year calls for an opportunity to explore the realm of Alzheimer’s disease, debunk misconceptions and offer insights into early detection and effective care.

Sunway Medical Centre Geriatrician Consultant Dr Teh Hoon Lang explained that dementia is not a normal part of ageing; it’s a complex brain function impairment set that interferes with daily life.


“Alzheimer’s Disease, a common type of dementia, is a progressive brain disorder characterised by the buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain and leading to gradual decline of memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Early detection and understanding are key to navigating this challenging journey,” she said in a statement.

Dr Teh said according to some studies, over 8.5 per cent of Malaysians aged 60 and above have dementia, with a higher prevalence among women.

This neurological condition will get worse over time but not all dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s Disease as there are other diseases that can contribute to it, including Vascular Dementia, Mixed Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia and others, she said.

According to Dr Teh, the early symptoms of dementia can be mild and may go unnoticed as many people may assume these symptoms as part of the normal ageing process.

“However, if the symptoms start to affect one’s daily life, it could then be construed as warning signs of dementia,” said Dr Teh.

She said early signs of dementia include recent memory loss such as being unable to recall recent events or appointments and challenges in planning or solving problems such as following a recipe, managing finances or own medicine.

Other signs include difficulty completing familiar tasks such as cooking, driving or using appliances and confusion with time or place like losing track of the date, time and wherever they are.

She said some may have trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships like difficulty understanding maps or following directions and problems with languages such as difficulty finding the right words or using the wrong words during communication.

Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, decreased poor judgement, withdrawal from work or social activities and changes in mood or personality are also early signs of dementia.

According to Dr Teh some risk factors that contribute to dementia include physical inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, head or traumatic head injuries and less or low levels of education in early life.

Other risk factors are obesity (especially in mid-life), diabetes (primarily type 2 diabetes), depression and hearing impairment or individuals with hearing loss, she added.

Therefore Dr Teh stressed the importance of early detection of the disease, saying that according to guidelines, routine cognitive screening isn’t recommended for everyone, it’s only recommended to screen people at risk.

However cognitive screening is not 100 per cent accurate, hence it’s crucial to educate the public about the early warning signs of dementia, she added.

According to Dr Teh some conditions that mimic dementia, such as vitamin B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism, are potentially reversible if treated early.

“This is why it is important to see a doctor for an assessment as soon as possible, as early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent or delay irreversible brain damage,” she said.- Bernama