Alzheimer’s and Dementia

I recently watched a documentary by actor Ross Kemp, called ‘Living with Dementia’ about different people who suffer from dementia and how it effects their families. It was recommended to me by my mum, she knew it would be something of interest to me as my Nan has Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This inspired me to do a little more digging into dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Dementia isn’t a disease, it is a term that describes a set of symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and issues with problem-solving. There are different diseases which cause dementia, Alzheimer’s being the most common. Other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and brain injuries can also cause dementia.

Alzheimer’s is a disease caused by a build up of proteins around brain cells that are abnormal. When the brain cells become affected there are less neurotransmitters and over time, certain areas of the brain will shrink. Age, genetics, Down’s Syndrome and risk factors that are often associated with cardiovascular disease can increase the risk of someone getting Alzheimer’s.

The dementia my nan suffers from is Vascular Dementia. This essentially means she experiences memory loss and cognitive problems, but this is as a result of a lack of blood flow to her brain which causes brain cells, responsible for certain cognitive processes, to die. Vascular Dementia is the second most common cause of dementia, after Alzheimer’s. This can be developed after having a stroke, fortunately she didn’t have one of those.  Due to my Nan also having Alzheimer’s disease, she can be said to have mixed dementia. Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia are the most common combination for mixed dementia. Symptoms of mixed dementia differ between patients, and often one form will dominate. For example, I find that my nan suffers from more symptoms of Alzheimer’s than Vascular Dementia.

Alzheimer’s patients can be prescribed with medications known as Cholintesterase inhibitors. Someone suffering from Alzheimer’s often has lower levels  of acetylcholine, which helps nerve cells to communicate. The inhibitors prevent the enzyme acetylcholinesterase breaking down the acetylcholine, increasing its levels in the brain. This doesn’t cure the disease but can help with symptoms in the mild/moderate stages of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately there is still no cure for the disease. However, living a healthy lifestyle can reduce risk.

As difficult as Alzheimer’s and Dementia can be for those who suffer from it, it has a much wider impact on their loved ones. When watching the documentary by Ross Kemp, I found there was a common theme amongst those caring for those with the disease, and that was guilt. Dementia is an exceptionally frustrating set of symptoms that can cause people to lose patience, which consequently leads to an immense feeling of guilt. Carers can also feel guilty for enjoying themselves and for choosing to put the patient into a home. Although this is often a choice in the best interests of their loved one, it can feel as though you are abandoning them when they need you the most. Not only do people feel guilty, but watching their partner, parent or even child suffer from dementia can be heartbreaking and often people feel as though they’re losing the person they love.

Another feature of the documentary, was the story of a young girl who suffers from Sanfilippo Syndrome. This is a metabolic disorder which is caused by the lack of an enzyme that normally breaks down a sugar molecule called ‘heparan sulfate’ which is stored in the lysosome of cells. Sanphilipo is a part of childhood dementia and causes hyperactivity, loss of speech, intellectual disability and many other symptoms. In the first stage of the disease symptoms are mild, but behaviour becomes increasingly difficult and the patient’s lifespan is decreased significantly. Dementia is often associated with adults and so finding out about a child suffering from it was saddening and made me realise that Dementia effects so many more people than I first thought.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s is definitely something I fear. My great grandma and nan have both had the disease, and I do wonder if it’s in my genetics and it’s something I could develop as I grow older, but there could be a cure or more effective treatment by then. Who knows?

During this lockdown, I wanted to do something worthwhile and realised I could put the incredible amount of baking I have been doing to some good use. Alzheimer’s society host a Cupcake Day each year, and I decided to get involved. I baked enough cakes to start a bakery and also reached out to the local neighbours. I had a big cake sale outside my home and raised £480 for Alzheimer’s Society. I was incredibly proud and even surprised, £480 is a lot of  money for some cake! My Nan lives quite far from me, but she was incredibly happy when I told her over the phone.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia may not have a cure just yet, but there’s no reason why you can’t do some research into the condition, or raise some money and know that it’s going to benefit such an important cause!


Organ Donation

Ethics. We all have them. They govern our behaviour and ultimately decide how we choose to live our lives. Our ethics can be the same, and they can differ. There are some topics that highlight our ethics, organ donation is one of them.

In England, the law around organ donation changed in May of this year. We have now adopted an ‘opt out’ approach, whereby if you are 18 or over and aren’t a member of one of the ‘excluded groups’ you are an organ donor unless you register and state otherwise.

I am a member of one of the ‘excluded groups’, due to my age I’m not registered as an organ donor automatically and have to register myself as one or wait until I’m 18. I registered quite some time ago to be an organ donor, it was a pretty easy choice for me. However, I understand why it’s a hot topic for debate.

From my ‘pro organ donation’ point of view, my death could potentially save the lives of nine other people, which is something amazing and almost gives my death a sense of purpose. As well as this, I feel it’s important that as many people are organ donors as possible, only 1% of people who die are in circumstances that allow them to donate their organs and so the more people who are registered, the more chance we have of saving the lives of those waiting on transplant lists. I could go on and on about the advantages of organ donation, but the main reason I researched this topic, is to gain some more perspective on why some people ‘opt-out’.

So, why disagree to donate? Lots of people fear that if their doctor was to discover that they’re an organ donor, they would be neglected and not given the best treatment in the hope that they die and their organs can be harvested. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but it’s an interesting point of view. Other ideas, are that people are psychologically uncomfortable discussing death and thinking about their organs being removed from their dead body – fair enough I suppose. Some feel that those in need of organs may be sick as a result of their poor lifestyle choices, and so they don’t want their organs to go to someone who has no respect for their body.

There is also some confusion around death itself. Medics believe that when a person has suffered irreversible brain damage that results in them not being able to respire independently, they are legally confirmed as being dead. However, because the rest of their organs still function, family members often argue the doctors’ decisions and state that they don’t know the person is dead, so their organs shouldn’t be removed and they should remain on life support. This is a situation that is understandably difficult for the family of patients in particular, letting go is hard.

I’m sure there are plenty more counter-arguments for organ donation but I can’t write forever. What matters is that, although I am still for organ donation, I can see both sides of the debate.

Virtual Work Experience

Whilst stuck inside during lockdown, I decided that aside from studying, workouts and baking cakes, now is the time to do something a little more productive whilst I have the time.

I realised the importance of gaining work experience when applying to medical schools, and the panic of not having any soon struck. I had read on various university websites that they will take into account the difficulty of gaining work experience at present, which relaxed me slightly. However! Brighton and Sussex medical school came to the rescue with their virtual work experience course.

I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how much of an ‘experience’ I’d get from an online course, but it was a pleasant surprise and I’d definitely recommend it.

There are 6 modules on the course, each giving you an insight into different aspects of medical care such as mental health or emergency medicine.  The course contains various powerpoints, interactive presentations and quizzes (there was no pressure to get all questions correct, you can still pass the course regardless, it just helps to apply knowledge). The time it takes to complete the course is completely up to you so there’s no pressure and you can take your time. At the end of the course you need to submit a  small piece of work, just reflecting on what you’ve learnt. I submitted mine a few weeks ago, the course has a high demand so it’s still under review.

The first module of the course was on general practice, a specialisation I’d never previously considered. I always said I wanted a job where I could be on my feet rather than always sat at a desk, and I felt emergency medicine would be more interesting than general practice. However, the course gave me an insight into the reality of primary healthcare, and that being a GP can be intense, you will encounter a wide variety of medical problems, everyday. Now I know more about it, being a GP is a career path that I would take into consideration.

The course also taught me about palliative care and it’s importance, how to take a patient history, the impact of mental health and how difficult treating elderly patients can be. Unfortunately, the elderly often suffer from multi-morbidity and so they have various illnesses that need treating at once, which is often challenging to do. 95% of the primary care population aged 65 and over are affected by multi-morbidity – a not so fun fact for you.

Overall, my experience may not have been quite so hands-on but I learnt something from it and it furthered my insight into a medical career, which is the main thing.

Solid 10/10 would recommend.



COVID-19 and Surgery

Recently, I’ve been looking into universities that I’m considering studying at in 2021 and whilst I was doing this, I found an article on the University of Birmingham’s website about how surgical patients who had been infected with the Coronavirus experienced significantly worse outcomes post-surgery.

All types of surgery: elective, emergency, minor (e.g. hernia repair) and major (e.g. hip surgery) had disproportionately high mortality rates in patients who had/have the virus in comparison with those who don’t.

It’s a normal expectation that patients having minor or elective surgeries would have a less than 1% chance of death, but this is not the case for those with the virus. Not only this, the mortality rates were greater for Covid-19 patients than those reported in extremely high-risk patients prior to the pandemic.

It definitely didn’t some as much of a surprise to me that patients with Covid-19 would have higher mortality rates post-surgery, the seriousness of the disease isn’t unknown (despite some people behaving like it is). However, I didn’t expect them to be quite so high in comparison to those without the virus.

This study is the first piece of evidence that discusses the impact of Covid-19 on surgery, in particular. Personally, it was a quick read that gave me more of an insight into the impact of the virus on something that I hadn’t thought about before.





Aneel Bhangu and Dimitri Nepogodiev, Co-Authors  (29th May 2020)

The Start!

Studying medicine has been a constant consideration throughout the past few years of my life; initially, I was the ultimate cliche.. ‘I want to be a doctor because I want to help others’. Original if you ask me.

Now I realise you can help others in a whole host of careers, it isn’t something that’s exclusive to being a doctor. I could help someone by being their banker, lawyer, waitress; the list is endless.  Furthermore, I’ve come to the conclusion that despite always being aware that studying medicine isn’t easy, I never fully understood quite how difficult it is, until now. Bring on the challenge.

Being in lockdown has given me more than enough time to make some life decisions, and deciding to study medicine and become a doctor was one of them. For real this time, rather than being inspired for all of 3-5 business days and then moving on.

I’ve started preparing for the UCAT (despite being told it’s something I don’t need to worry about, I want to be prepared), I’ve completed the Brighton and Sussex Medical School Virtual Work Experience Course, started planning my personal statement, looking at universities and now I’m writing this blog! Big shout out to my chemistry teacher for recommending this to me, by the way.

I’d be lying if I said the thought of UCAT exams, MMIs, traditional interviews, personal statements and straight As doesn’t make me want to scream with stress and fear, but I’ve proven to myself before that my ability is far greater than my confidence, it just takes some extra hard work and to dig deep.. really deep. But if I can play rugby and survive two broken legs, I can do this!