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Dementia: Causes, Symptoms and its prevalence in 21st Century India

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By Garima Tripathi, Co-founder of Care24

Dementia is essentially characterized as a set of symptoms that includes loss in memory, critical thinking, problem solving and language.  In the initial stages these changes are small and relatively indiscernible, but may eventually progress to such a stage as to hamper and affect daily life.

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells which in turn hampers the ability of our nerve cells to communicate effectively, this affects our thinking and behavioural patterns.

As we grow older, and our brain changes, it is but natural that we may experience occasional memory lapses. However, the symptoms exhibited by Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease is serious enough to hamper daily activities, creating the need of medical assistance. These symptoms are not a natural part of getting older.

Globally, approximately 44 million people live with Dementia, with India housing the second most number of individuals with an estimated 4.1 million patients. This is expected to double by 2035. Dementia has thus become a global crisis that must be addressed promptly and effectively.

Healthcare providers, government and support groups need to recognize that diseases of the elderly are going to be a very important public health problem in India. The prevalence of this disorder in India is accelerating with an increasing number of cases going unrecognised.

Alzheimer’s Disease is a major cause of Dementia, and accounts for nearly 60 – 80% of cases. Another form of Dementia, “Vascular Dementia”, is also fairly common and occurs after a stroke. Dementia may also be caused due to complications involving the thyroid gland and vitamin deficiencies.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

  •   Trouble Completing tasks that were once easy
  •   Difficulty in solving Problems
  •   Changes in an individual’s mood or personality. Withdrawal from friends and family.
  •   Problems with Written or Verbal Communication
  •   Confusion about People, Locations and Events

 

 

The major challenge that needs to be addressed is changing the mentality of the people towards this burgeoning crisis. People need to be made aware of the fact that dementia and related problems are not merely old-age related ailments. These are neurological complications that affect the aged, and need proper diagnosis, care and support. Proactive diagnosis of dementia is the need of the hour. This can be implemented in the form of Cognitive Screening Programs for the elderly and Public Education Policies designed to increase awareness of early signs of Dementia.

Although, there is still no definite cure for dementia, and most types of dementia cannot be treated, there are certain lifestyle changes that can be incorporated to mitigate the effects of Dementia. These are as follows:

  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Exercise regularly and keep your weight in check
  • Reduce or quit alcohol consumption and tobacco use
  • Regularly check blood pressure levels and keep them in check
  • Include more vitamin K in your diet – spinach, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, turnip, greens, and cauliflower.
  • Add omega 3 fatty acids in your diet – fatty fish, seafood, spinach, soybeans, flaxseed, and walnuts.
  • Reduce sugar intake.

 

In terms of treatment, it’s imperative that we adopt a more humane, empathetic and compassionate approach in dealing with dementia patients. We need to remember that we’re dealing with humans with emotional and psychological needs. Consider adopting the following methods in communicating and dealing with Dementia Patients:

 

  •        Adopt a positive demeanour and tone
  •        Be clear and lucid in your communication
  •        Use short sentences for effective communication
  •        Listen to the patient, try to understand their needs
  •        Keep Your instructions clear and precise

Has your loved one been diagnosed with Dementia? Caring for a Dementia Patient is a trying ordeal, but it is imperative to remember that you are not alone in this endeavour; that there are others like you. There are support groups, organizations and services that can help you. Bear in mind that there will be good days and bad days. Remember and treasure the good days; develop a sense of humour and a coping strategy to deal with the bad days.

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