Alzheimer's disease develops as a result of the death of brain cells and can begin years before the first symptoms appear. Photo: AP

Every 3.2 seconds, a new person is added to the more than 55 million Alzheimer's patients worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO's data indicates that approximately 10 million new cases are diagnosed each year. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia which is ranked the "7th leading cause of death."

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss and possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment. It affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language.

The medical condition described by German psychiatrist and pathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906, develops as a result of the death of brain cells. The changes in the brain can begin years before the first symptoms appear.

Warning signs

Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes the disease considered the "nightmare of the 21st century." Experts say there likely is not a single cause but rather several factors that can affect each person differently.

According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), age is the best-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe that genetics may also play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Doctors say memory problems are typically one of the first warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Someone with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may get lost in a familiar place, misplace things and may have trouble handling money and paying bills. Their mood, personality and behavior may also change. They also tend to ask questions repeatedly and their judgment may be decreased or poor.

Global cost exceeds $1.3 trillion

With a new person added to Alzheimer's patients every 3.2 seconds, it is expected that the number of Alzheimer's patients will reach 139 million by 2050.

The current annual global cost of Alzheimer's disease, which is currently over $1.3 trillion, is expected to rise to $2.8 trillion by 2030.

According to a 2021 report by Alzheimer's Disease International (AZI), it is estimated that 75% of dementia patients worldwide remain undiagnosed.

Lack of awareness is cited as a significant obstacle to diagnosis, with undiagnosed rates reaching up to 90% in some low and middle-income countries.

Treatment and care

There is currently no existing treatment method to cure or alter the progressive course of dementia. In addition, numerous new treatment methods are being investigated at various stages of clinical trials.

Research suggests that people can reduce their risk of dementia by regularly exercising, avoiding smoking and alcohol use, maintaining a healthy diet, and controlling their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.

The rising costs and lack of definitive treatment method for the Alzheimer's disease means that millions of patients will continue to struggle carrying out familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.

TRT Afrika and agencies