Month of September each year is known as month of Alzheimer as people around the globe join together in the movement to create an awareness of the disease of Dementia / Alzheimer. 21st September is also marked as World Alzheimer Day. Dementia / Alzheimer is predominantly an irreversible & dreaded disease: a fear with which the senior citizens have to live with.
Statistically as well the situation is alarming. Someone in the world develops Dementia every 3 seconds. As per WHO, number of people in world affected by Dementia in 2020 is around 50 million and is likely to double every 20 years. Dementia is also 7th largest cause of death in the world. In India, the number of people affected by Dementia is around 5.00 million and is projected to grow up to 14 million by 2050.
Under the above backdrop, it is better to have a basic awareness of the disease, know about its early symptoms, see what can be done to take some of the pre-emptive steps to prevent and be aware of other associated issues.
Nature and Symptoms of Dementia:
Dementia is not necessarily associated with ageing. However, there is predominance of Dementia amongst aged people. And therefore, elderly people need to be more concerned about it. While Dementia is not any specific disease, it is a general term denoting cognitive impairment. This means that the individual affected by Dementia is not mentally normal and suffers from disability to think, remember, or make decisions in everyday activities. This primarily happens on account of degeneration / los of neurons. However, every memory loss is not Dementia. It is quite but natural that elderly people often forget something like names of someone or of some keys misplaced, etc. One should not worry too much about the same. However, worrying sign comes when it becomes quite regular and results in impediment in decision making on a regular basis.
Some of the early common symptoms of Dementia include:
a. Memory loss on a consistent basis
b. Missing out / disorientation of time and place
c. Mood swinging / change in behaviour on constant basis
d. Poor judgement towards decision making
e. Withdrawal from activities / interactions
f. Difficulty in performing regular / routine activities
g. Misplacing things in a continued manner
If not diagnosed properly at the early stage, degeneration is often fast and the patient might suffer from severe Dementia that may be totally irreversible. Such patients may forget the actual reality and live in their own world forgetting even their near and dear ones including children. They may also become restless and violent.
People often use the terms Dementia and Alzheimer synonymously. These are in fact different; Dementia is the umbrella term and Alzheimer is one of the subsets of Dementia. Alzheimer comprises a substantive proportion of Alzheimer, may be as high as 60 to 70 per cent. Therefore, people sometimes use these two terms interchangeably. Other types Dementia include Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Mixed Dementia, Vascular Dementia, among many others.
The cause of Dementia is still not very clear. Genetically some protein is said to be responsible for the same. Hence it is very difficult to prescribe any preventive steps. However, like other impairment diseases, it is always desirable to follow life style necessary for keeping body and mind healthy so that, to some extent, possibility of getting Dementia is minimized.
Some steps in this regard include:
a. Good sleep
b. Healthy & balanced diet
c. Rigorous physical exercise
d. Regular mental stimulating games including yoga / mediation
e. Staying socially connected
f. Less stressful life
Learning Points for Elderly People:
Since it is difficult to prevent a disease like Dementia, we have to learn to live with it. It may happen to anyone of us including our close ones. Some of social / medical steps that we should take as responsible citizens include:
1. We should try to understand / realize early symptoms if it is happening to anyone around us. At initial stage, there is some possibility of stemming the further progress or even reversal. Hence early diagnosis is crucial.
2. We often see and hear about social stigma associated with Dementia. We as socially responsible persons must not have any such feeling for a person with Dementia and treat him / her as a fellow human being affected with a disability.
3. We must take the patient to a Geriatric Consultant / Neurological Consultant / Alzheimer Professional so that correct diagnosis can be done at an early date and medicine started.
4. Caregiving for such patients becomes extremely important. The caregivers can be close family members or professionals. At an advanced stage, Dementia patients may not be in a position to remember even the close family members or handle basic life needs; therefore, we need highly sensitive care givers who are empathetic, pleasing, well communicative, persons with extreme patience and can relate to the patient who often is in his / her own world. Thus lots of sensitivity is needed.
5. Our intention of taking care of such people who have forgotten everything is to facilitate their living a life of happiness till very end. There are dedicated senior citizen homes with modern facilities and counsellor services where such patients can be placed, if family members are not able to care of them at home.
Dementia is a reality among elderly people. While it is difficult to prevent, it is sometimes possible to slow down the process of progression if identified early and proper medication started in time. We also need to be sensitive to needs of such patients and treat them humanely. We would suggest that the elderly people should visit the elder homes dedicated to Dementia patients and spend some time there as volunteers playing games and enjoying with the inmates. It will go a long way in improving their mental wellbeing. On behalf of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF), we have done so by being to the centres of Aajicare Home at Mumbai (a specialized senior home for Dementia patients) and results have been good both for patients as well as volunteers. That’s the only way we can improve social interaction level of Dementia patients and enable them to live their remining life happily.
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