New hot line for Alzheimer’s sufferers and caregivers

Last Saturday was World Alzheimer’s Day, dedicated to sufferers of a disorder that leads to the gradual loss of brain cells and which is the cause of 40-60 percent of all cases of dementia. The number of victims of the disease has been rising along with the increasing longevity of the general population. In Greece, over 100,000 people are believed to be suffering from some form of dementia; about 60,000 of these cases are caused by Alzheimer’s. One in 20 people over the age of 65 and a quarter of all people aged over 85 are likely to contract the disease. The causes are not known, although genetic and environmental factors are believed to play some part. It has been suggested that the more someone uses their brain cells, the less likelihood there is of that person contracting Alzheimer’s, although there is no scientific evidence to support this theory – a number of university professors, among others, have developed the condition. The initial symptoms are memory loss above and beyond the normal forgetting of names, appointments or telephone numbers. The person experiences personality changes and gradually loses the ability to communicate, even with family members, and to perform routine tasks. As the disease advances, the patient requires complete care and the loss of brain function will eventually cause death, sometimes also caused by pneumonia or a urinary tract infection. Alzheimer’s not only affects the lives of the patients themselves but also those of their family members who have the difficult task of caring for them. The Carers and Relatives of People with Alzheimer’s Society, in cooperation with the Greek Gerontology and Geriatric Society, have set up a hot line (010.330.3678) that provides information about the disease. Since the hot line was set up in January of this year, there have been 1,040 calls, 18 percent of which concerned diagnosis of the disease; 17 percent, the care of patients; 16 percent, general information, and 10 percent, information about pharmaceutical treatment. One in 10 callers wanted information about health insurance; 3 percent wanted legal advice; 11 percent, information on nursing homes, and 7 percent, on expert caretakers. Another 5 percent wanted information on prevention of the disease and 3 percent wanted to know if it was hereditary. The psycho-geriatric society Nestor is also developing services for people with Alzheimer’s, such as specialized medical centers, a psychological diagnostic center, a day center to be open morning hours and even a «Cafe Alzheimer» to operate daily during afternoon hours. Early warning signs In the early stages of the disease, patients present certain symptoms that should act as a warning that medical advice should be sought. One of the most common early signs is an increasing loss of recently learned information. The person repeats questions and cannot recall recent conversations or events. He or she also frequently puts things in the wrong place. People with Alzheimer’s find it difficult to follow complicated thought processes or to complete tasks requiring several stages. They become disoriented and have difficulty finding words and in expressing themselves. They often show poor judgement, mood swings, appear indifferent to rules of social behavior, or become aggressive. Cypriot Archbishop Chrysostomos, in an Athens hospital since sustaining head and vertebrae injuries in a fall in May, will be flown back to Nicosia on Thursday, doctors said yesterday. Chrysostomos, 75, will return to Cyprus, but not to his duties, Bishop Chrysostomos of Paphos said, adding that a medical council would determine whether and when the injured prelate would be able to resume his post. But a doctor who had sat on the archbishop’s previous medical council, Costas Pouyiouros, said elections for a successor to the archbishop had been set for November 10.