Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Until recently, talking (or thinking) about these diseases was something that most of us did in connection with old age. They were considered diseases of old people. Recently, however, we began to hear more and more cases of people in their 40s and 50s being diagnosed with these diseases, as was the case of journalist Renata Capucci, who revealed that she had been suffering from Parkinson’s for 45 years.
With these stories, it’s impossible not to start asking questions: Are early cases of neurodegenerative diseases really on the rise? Can it be prevented? Do environmental issues interfere with their appearance? To help clarify these and other questions — and better understand these diseases — we spoke with several neurologists.
What are neurodegenerative diseases?
“It is the group of pathologies that involve the degeneration and death of neurons”, defines neurologist Felipe Barros, preceptor of the Neurology residency at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein and neurologist at Hospital Sírio Libanês. “In general, in Alzheimer’s, memory-related neurons die. In Parkinson’s, those involving movement. And, in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, there is degeneration of neurons related to motor activity and strength”, completes the specialist.
Are early cases really on the rise?
“There is no research to confirm this. But what we can say is that, with the advancement of medicine, we are able to diagnose diseases earlier, in the initial phase. This can give the feeling that there are more cases”, explains Dr. clay. This finding is corroborated by neurologist Sonia Brucki, Coordinator of the Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology Group at Hospital das Clínicas, Faculty of Medicine, University of São Paulo: “Talking about my specialty, Alzheimer’s, we realize that people are much more linked to cognitive movements, which involve memory, language, reasoning. When they notice persistent changes in these areas, whether in themselves or in relatives, they seek help. And that helps to arrive at an earlier diagnosis — and, by extension, to have an increase in early cases”, adds the expert. Neurologist Carlos Otto Heise, head of the electroneuromyography department of the neurology division at Hospital das Clínicas, University of São Paulo also shares this opinion: “There have always been early cases, such as that of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking [que foi diagnosticado aos 21 anos e morreu aos 76]. What has changed is that people now pay much more attention to symptoms and seek help sooner,” adds Dr. Hey.
The benefits of an early diagnosis
As with any disease, the sooner it is discovered, the sooner treatment begins. “Today, these pathologies still do not have a cure. So, early discovery is an opportunity to initiate follow-up, therapeutic resources, and patient rehabilitation before more severe symptoms set in. And, with that, we were able to delay the progression of the clinical picture, improving the quality of life of those who have the disease”, says Dr. clay.
What causes these diseases?
Most neurodegenerative disorders, and there are hundreds of them, are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. And that’s why it’s so difficult to predict who will develop the disease. With regard to Alzheimer’s, in 2020, the British scientific journal The Lancet listed 12 risk factors associated with the onset of the problem, including physical inactivity, smoking, depression, hypertension, diabetes, pollution and excessive alcohol consumption. “By paying attention to these factors and making changes to counteract them, it has been found that up to 40% of cases can be delayed or prevented,” says Dr. Sonia Brucki. “And what is known in relation to Parkinson’s, for example, is that some types of pesticides are related to the development of the problem, as well as pollution, and that the practice of physical activity helps to delay the onset of symptoms”, adds the author. Dr. clay. As for ALS, scientific research has not yet managed to evolve much. “This disease is very complex. It is known that there is a large percentage of genetic origin, but most cases are still considered sporadic, we do not know why it appeared” explains Dr. Hey. The specialist adds that there are some studies that relate high-performance physical effort, intense overload, to an increased risk of developing Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. “But without a 100% confirmation yet,” he adds.
What are the warning signs?
Each disease has its particular symptoms. Doctors explain that it is very important to pay attention to the body, to feel if these manifestations begin to evolve or intensify. And then look for an expert for an evaluation. Here are the main points raised by the experts:
Parkinson Degeneration occurs mainly in neurons linked to movement. The main signs of the disease are: tremor in the hands, arms, legs and head; long-term muscle contraction; decreased movement, loss of balance and coordination. In addition, behavioral changes are observed, such as sleep disturbance, memory difficulties, depression and fatigue.
Alzheimer As many of the symptoms can be confused with other problems, such as stress and depression, it is very important to understand how often they occur and if they are intensifying to the point of impacting life. Some early signs: memory failure, mental confusion, keeping objects in places that are not theirs (keys in the fridge, for example), trouble sleeping, apathy and the desire to be alone, difficulty thinking logically or doing math simple.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) The three main symptoms of the disease are muscle weakness with stiffening of the muscles (sclerosis), which starts first on one side of the body (lateral), and muscle atrophy (amyotrophic). Muscle tremors and cramps are also common.
Can it be prevented?
It is still not possible to prevent the onset of these diseases. But some actions and some treatments can help to delay the progression of the clinical picture. Because they are neurodegenerative pathologies, it is important to seek a healthy lifestyle in order to have a healthy brain aging. And the combo for well-being, we know: physical activity, obesity reduction, healthy eating, restorative sleep, not smoking, not consuming alcohol in excess and always keeping an eye out for signs of diabetes or hypertension, to carry out a treatment. adequate.