Elderly people, minds of the nation: Alzheimer’s disease is a thief.
Alzheimer’s stole my darling.
I can remember this as it was yesterday. My grandmother was the most precious thing I had in my life. She was the most brilliant, happiest, honest, loving, and caring person I have ever known. I used to see her at home since I was four years old.
Since I was younger, My grandmother used to tell us stories, sing, cook, and play with us, and she knew everything about us from our names to our characters. She played a huge role in our childhood. She instilled different values in me, and I learned so many things from her that shaped me into a person that I am today. My brothers and I used to say that if there is no GOD, we could be worshiping her. But as we grew up, we started noticing little changes in her behaviors. She started losing her short time memory, mixing up our names, forgetting what she was about to do, and she became quiet and weak eventually. I had so many questions in my mind, and I was worried more than anyone at home. This never made any sense to me until I knew a real-life thief, Alzheimer’s disease. It stole her happiness, her stories, and her wisdom, and it literally stole my darling and the most intelligent woman I have ever known. Her condition became worse as she aged, and I lost her entirely on the 17th of February 2020.
What on earth is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, recurrent brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, ultimately, the ability to perform the simplest tasks. Most of the population with the disease those with the late-onset type symptoms first appear in their mid-60s. (National Institute on Aging. 2018).
This brings us to the stages of Alzheimer’s disease as it is a progressive disease. Each person with Alzheimer’s experiences the disease in different ways; however,People tend to experience a similar path from the beginning of sickness to the termination of death. The exact number of stages of Alzheimer’s disease is quite subjective. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease progresses in three main general stages, which are mild (early stage), moderate (middle-stage), and Several (last stage). (Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, 2020).
Causes of Alzheimer’s disease
Scientists believe that Alzheimer’s disease in most people is due to a combination of hereditary, ways of life, and environmental factors that affect the brain a period of time. Less than 1% of the time, Alzheimer’s is triggered by specific genetic variations that virtually guarantee that a person develops a disease. (Mayo Clinic, 2020)
And at the same time, Alzheimer’s disease is believed to have been caused by excessive protein build-up in and around brain cells. One of the proteins associated is called amyloid, which creates plaques inside brain cells. The other protein is named tau, the deposits of which build entanglements inside brain cells. Although it is not clear exactly what causes this process to begin, scientists now believe that it will actually start several years before symptoms occur. When brain cells are impaired, there is also a reduction in chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters) involved in sending messages or signals between brain cells. Acetylcholine, a common neurotransmitter, is particularly low in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Through time, various areas of the brain start diminishing. The first areas that are usually affected are responsible for memories. Various regions of the brain are affected in more unusual forms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Age is the single most significant factor. The risk of having Alzheimer’s disease increases every five years after you reach the age of 65.
But it’s not just elderly people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. About 1 in 20 people with this condition are under the age of 65.
This is called early-or young-onset Alzheimer’s disease and can affect people around the age of 40. (Mayo Clinic, 2020)
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Depending on the stage of Alzheimer’s disease, according to Alzheimer’s associate, there are ten common signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality. (Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, 2020)
Alzheimer’s disease in Rwanda
According to the world population revision of 2019, the total population of Rwanda in 2018 was 1,230,197, and 2.7 of this population are people with 65 years old. This number is projected to increase as the life expectancy of Rwandans also increased to 67.13 years in 2016.(Un.org. 2019).
This number shows that Rwanda will have a lot of elderly people, and it is a fact that elderly people need special care due to the special issues they face. From the research I have done, there is a high demand for special treatment for elderly people in Rwanda, they face challenges that other people sometimes do not understand such as disconnection to the younger generation, isolation, lack of friends, lack of family care, shortage of healthcare facilities, etc.
According to the latest WHO report published in 2017, Alzheimer’ s/Dementia Deaths in Rwanda reached 667 or 1.08% of total deaths. As a Combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors are the causes of late-onset Alzheimer’s. (World Life Expectancy, 2017). Even though the death rate from Alzheimer’s disease is still on the lower percentage, as the lifestyle is one the risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease, from the primary research I have conducted the last term, I have realized that many elderly people in Rwanda have a low standard of social welfare and healthcare.
There is a high risk the significant increase in numbers of getting Alzheimer’s disease and other life long dementia in Rwanda due to loneliness, isolation, depression, unawareness of the disease, poor healthcare for seniors, few policies for older people and ways of preventing and help people with Alzheimer’s disease in elderly people of Rwanda.
Elderly people’s life in Rwanda seems to be neglected while they have the rights as every human being and they deserve to be loved and cared for from everyone around them since they are a mind of a nation. Elderly individuals are one of the most significant and crucial groups of people in society that can play a lot of roles in winning this hard puzzle of life. Their life experience contains exceptional knowledge and wisdom of the time that they accumulated from more than 65 years of their existence on this earth. Seniors are the mind of the nation; their knowledge and wisdom can contribute to building better societies and the development of the country as a whole. They need to be loved and cared about to share what they have to the world.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. (2018). What Is Alzheimer’s?. [online] Available at: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers.
National Institute on Aging. (2018). What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?. [online] Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-causes-alzheimers-disease.
World Life Expectancy. (2017). Alzheimers/Dementia in Rwanda. [online] Available at: https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/rwanda-alzheimers-dementia.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. (2020). Stages of Alzheimer’s. [online] Available at: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/stages.
Mayo Clinic. (2020). Alzheimer’s disease – Symptoms and causes. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. (2020). 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s. [online] Available at: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs.
Un.org. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/ageing/WPA2015_Report.pdf.
National Institute on Aging. (2019). Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet. [online] Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet.
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (2018). Feeling Lonely IncreasesAlzheimer’sRisk.[online]Availableat:https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/feeling-lonely-increases-alzheimers-risk-2/.
Dornsife.usc.edu. (2018). Can loneliness lead to Alzheimer’s disease? > News > USCDornsife.[online]Availableathttps://dornsife.usc.edu/news/stories/2818/isolation-leads-to-alzheimers-dementia/.
This was a heartfelt article and I hope you stay strong as you deal with the death of a dearly loved one.
I have a few questions that I would like to ask if you do not mind. Do you think 1.08% of deaths in Rwanda which is accredited to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia should be considered an emergency? Or rather, are you encouraging the youth and the government to look into this matter before it becomes a more serious issue? And if so, is there data that shows the numbers are eventually going to get out of hand? Lastly, how can an ordinary person like me, help in finding a solution to the problem you have posed?
Thank you so much Jessica for asking. I think the 1.08% of deaths in Rwanda which is accredited to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is not yet an emergency as the country faces other pressing issues. However, as the Rwanda’s life expectancy is increasing and the number of elderly people is project to increase eventually and as the problem continues to be neglected, it will eventually get worse. What I could encourage everyone, youth especially, is to help in raising awareness of the disease, finding innovative solutions and to take care of the parents/ grandparents as much as they could.
I had the privilege to meet with your amazing grandma, RIP to her. You mentioned in your article that “Alzheimer’s disease is believed to have been caused by excessive protein build-up in and around brain cells” does that mean we need to take an action and maybe reduce the consumption of more proteins especially when you’re at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (at the age of 65)?
Well articulated article otherwise.
Everything about this article is very relatable, my heart goes out to you, and may your Grandmother keep resting in peace.
Mental health is something I personally like to talk and inform myself about, it is true that in our community people are less concerned about it, having you talk about Alzheimer is very refreshing because I know our community can finally start having this conversation and be much more aware.