With increasing life expectancy and a rising elderly population, India is set to experience a major burden of dementia in the upcoming decades. Yet, awareness and understanding about risk factors, preventive measures, symptoms and treatment remain abysmally low.
At an awareness talk and panel discussion organized by Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon in association with Samvedna Senior Care on World Alzheimer’s Day, doctors and experts spoke about the need for creating greater awareness, establishing social support systems for affected families as well as encouraging people to adopt a ‘brain-healthy’ lifestyle as a preventive measure. They also stressed the need to educate people that dementia is not senility, as is the common perception.
The session was attended by around 100 elderly people and their family members who also interacted with the experts and sought clarity about the disease.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, the general term for memory loss, inability to think, remember, or reason, as well as behavioral abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. It is a progressive disease that worsens over time until the patient loses most of his intellectual and cognitive ability, fails to recognize his family members and needs constant monitoring and help. Dementia is one of the leading causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide.
Dr Vijay Chandra, Dementia Specialist, Neurology, Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon said, “Dementia is a condition that occurs when the nerve cells in a particular part of the brain suffer damage, stop functioning and lose connection with other brain cells. It causes cognitive and intellectual loss in the affected individual. The disease usually affects people above 65 years of age but is not a normal part of aging. Many people live into their 90s and beyond without any signs of dementia.
At the same time, a small group of people can be affected by early onset dementia before 65 years of age. In India, there is very little awareness of the condition and most people do not seek medical help until the disease progresses too far. It is important to educate people about the need for seeking early medical help to slow down the progression of the disease”. He also pointed out that Indians are protected from dementia compared to western populations. It is important to find out why Indians are protected, so these factors can be promoted.
The Dementia India Report 2010 estimated that the number of dementia patients would double by 2030, requiring greater number of caregivers and support mechanisms. Even as researchers work to find a cure to the debilitating condition, a parallel body of research has also indicated that stimulating brain activity and adopting brain healthy lifestyles can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
“With rising population of the elderly, India is facing a rising burden of Dementia. This calls for the need for creating better social and institutional support mechanisms for patients and their families. It also calls for improving individual awareness about dementia. Every individual should understand his/her risks and work to reduce them. Research shows that people involved in mentally stimulating tasks have a reduced risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s as they age. Reading, learning new things, solving puzzles etc are ways to keep your brain neurons active and stimulated,” said Dr Pravat Mandal, National Brain Research Centre, who also updated the audience on the latest research on Alzheimer’s.
A patient can be determined to be affected by dementia if, two or more core mental functions of the patient is impaired. These functions include memory, language skills, visual perception, and the ability to focus and pay attention. These also include cognitive skills such as the ability to reason and solve problems. The loss of brain function is severe enough that a person cannot do normal, everyday tasks. It also effects their emotions and in some cases the patient may hallucinate.
So, if there is an elderly person in your family who shows signs of cognitive loss such as asking the same questions repeatedly, forgetting their daily tasks, confusion about time or place or failure to remember recent incidents, make sure he/she seeks immediate medical help.