PANAJI: Every year, people from around the globe come together on World Alzheimer’s Day (September 21) to raise awareness, challenge the stigma, and pledge their support to the cause. The theme this year ‘Never too early never too late’ is based on reduction of risk factors for dementia.
Dr Amit Dias, Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the Goa Medical College, was part of a landmark paper on Dementia Risk Reduction that was published in the Lancet, which highlighted that there are 12 risk factors that can prevent dementia.
Proactive steps for managing Alzheimer's
“There are factors that we need to increase and some factors that we need to decrease, need to increase physical activity, improve cognitive stimulation, and increase social contact,” he explained.
“Physical activity need not be too vigorous, you need not run a marathon, but you need to do at least 20-30 minutes of exercise per day for at least five days a week. You can pick your exercise like walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, Zumba, yoga… all of them will help. People often think that since this is a condition that affects the elderly, we can work on a prevention strategy later in life, but that’s where we go wrong,” Dr Dias said.
“The theme this year highlights the fact that it is never too early to start risk reduction strategies. It's much more effective if we initiate risk reduction early. At the same time, it is not too late for those who could not start earlier,” said Dr Dias.
'Memory Cafe' to serve as platform for senior citizens
Dr Dias and the team have been instrumental in starting the ‘Memory Cafe’ in Goa for seniors to get a platform to come together to engage in various cognitive stimulation exercises and also have fun. The service is available free of cost and run by volunteers.
“There are some risk factors we need to decrease such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, excess alcohol, head injury, deafness and exposure to air pollution,” said Dr Dias, who is part of the guideline development group for the World Health Organisation on dementia risk reduction.
He emphasises, “In a country like ours, where we have more than 4 million people with dementia, it is imperative to implement the risk reduction strategies. Risk reduction is known to delay the onset of dementia and potentially prevent it to the extent of 40%.”
Dr Dias is the founder and secretary of the Dementia Society of Goa (DSG) under the guidance of Dr Chicot Vas (neurologist), Dr Vikram Patel and Dr Rajesh Dhume (psychiatrists), Dr Fernando Noronha (dentist), late Jean D’Souza (caregiver) and others. The intervention developed by the DSG won the international prize for being the best psychosocial intervention for people with dementia.
“We have the evidence, but we need to put this into practice. There is a lot that we know even since the discovery of the beta-amyloid plaques in the brain of people with dementia by Dr Alois Alzheimer in 1906.”
“We do not have a cure yet, but a lot can be done to improve the quality of life of the person with dementia and address the issues faced by the caregivers.”
Mind It Initiative
Dr Amit Dias has started a unique programme for schools in Goa called the ‘Mind It Initiative’. Through this initiative, schoolchildren are trained on how to adopt a brain-healthy lifestyle to prevent dementia and also sensitise them to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease so that they may recognise them in the elders in their homes.
He added that dementia services should be integrated with the health and wellness centres started throughout the country.
“Community health workers and Asha workers can be easily trained in assisting families looking after people with dementia and improving their quality of life,” informed Dr Dias.
“With the efforts of policy makers, the medical fraternity, social workers, nurses, occupational therapists, and the community at large, awareness is growing. But a lot more needs to be done to bridge the gap in awareness and treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Let's all join the campaign - remember, it's never too early and never too late.”
Atal Setu to be lit up in Purple on Sept 21
On World Alzheimer’s Day, the Atal Setu over the River Mandovi will be lit up in Purple to raise awareness of the need to bridge the treatment gap for dementia.
“Thanks to GSIDC for this gesture to remind people to remember those who cannot remember. People are encouraged to wear purple and express their support for the cause. The Atal Setu in Goa will join the various monuments around the world, which will be lit up in purple for Alzheimer’s awareness,” said Dr Amit Dias.