The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Brain protein clue to that missing key
- Aged and ailing slip into memory gaps as Alzheimer’s count touches 46,000

If you thought forgetting simple tasks is the price you must pay for growing old, you are wrong. For Calcutta, according to modest estimates, has 46,000 people suffering from dementia — caused primarily by Alzheimer’s disease which affects one’s ability to remember, speak, think and make rational decisions.

The increasing number of cases of Alzheimer’s disease has prompted city-based neurologists to conduct two separate studies to find out the condition of our senior citizens.

The first, under the aegis of the Indian Council of Medical Research, is a door-to-door survey to estimate the exact number of dementia patients in the city. The second, which is nearing completion, is being done by two neurologists and holds under the scanner 50,000 citizens.

“The results will be out some time next month and the report will be placed at an Alzheimer’s conference. We have been able to find out that a lot of people over 50 are falling prey to the dreaded disease,” said Tapas Banerjee, neurologist and member of the Calcutta chapter of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI)

Doctors have so far found that genetic factors play a crucial role in causing Alzheimer’s, primarily in the 65-plus age group. Constant accumulation of protein in the hippocampus region of the brain, concerned with “recent memory”, is first affected as the proteins proceed to destroy memory cells. This damages the memory circuit in the human brain, resulting in people forgetting simple things like where they kept their keys or forgetting what they did a few minutes ago.

If left untreated, the situation aggravates to such an extent that a person forgets who he or she is and becomes confused about simple things in life before slipping into coma. Apart from genetic factors, the gradual ageing process causing cells to degenerate, along with high cholesterol and high pressure are known to be the other factors causing Alzheimer’s.

Doctors believe that isolation in old age and lack of proper mental exercise could be contributing to the rising number of cases in the city. “We do believe that if things like depression, loneliness and neglect can be eliminated from a person’s life, he stands a better chance of responding to medicines. In any case, his quality of life can be improved with proper care,” says neurologist S.S. Nandi.

Confronted with Alzheimer’s cases, ARDSI, comprising doctors and eminent citizens, has decided to create awareness about the disease and also provide medical assistance. Neurologists and psychiatrists from all over the country have decided to converge on the city in November to hold a conference on Alzheimer’s disease and try to address the related problems.

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