Time for Kerala to focus on health needs of the elderly: Jacob Roy

Kerala needs to make dementia a public health and social welfare priority and put systems in place so that the health system can handle the increasing requirement of care and support facilities for those suffering from dementia, Jacob Roy, chairman of the Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), has said.

“It is time Kerala began focussing on establishing social support systems for the care of those with Alzheimer’s because its population growth has more or less stabilised. If the focus of the health system so far has been on improving maternal and child health, this now needs to shift to the care of its burgeoning population of elderly, a chunk of whom will require special care and attention as dementia patients,” Dr. Roy said while talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the World Alzheimer’s Day observance in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday.

A specific problem

The care and support of those with Alzheimer’s is a specific problem and not to be tackled along with general geriatric care, he said.

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s always happens after the disease has well set in because all early symptoms are treated as the general problems of the geriatric population, he added.

“The Alzheimer’s disease needs to be treated differently from the general problems of old age because 10 to 14 per cent of dementia cases are treatable, if detected early. With a significant per cent of the population suffering from hypertension, vascular dementia is slated to be a major issue in Kerala. Vascular dementia is preventable and hence the State needs to focus on early detection and treatment,” Dr. Roy said.

With the growth of nuclear families, where both spouses would be working, there are no more care-givers in families here. Most families have no option but to hand over the care to hired help, who might worsen the disease as they are not trained to handle those with dementia.

The ADI, along with the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology, and Environment, will take up Dementia Kerala study as there is an urgent need to assess the actual prevalence of the disease, the gaps in the requirement and availability of support services.

“The data will be important when we are setting up systems for the care of the demented. Unlike other States, which still need to get their basic health care right, Kerala is well-placed to establish a care model for the population with dementia. Training doctors, nurses, and other care-givers, setting up memory clinics for early detection and care of dementia would be a good start,” Dr. Roy said.

Keywords: dementiahealth care