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Updated: October 1, 2013 09:52 IST

Wanted: more care for dementia

Serena Josephine M.
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Doctors underscore urgent need for centres that offer holistic treatment to deal with illness

Ten million. That is the estimated number of people in India who will have dementia by 2050, up from the current 3.8 million.

While this is a scary projection, experts say that what is even scarier is the lack of awareness and specialised care for the disease, one that mainly affects the elderly. Specialised care centres for holistic treatment are a must, especially in a metro like Chennai, they say.

Dementia, said S. Nambi, a senior city-based psychiatrist, is an illness that leads to the deterioration of all higher mental functions including memory, judgement and decision-making due to a gradual loss of functional nerve cells.

“There is loss of inhibition, irritability, topographic disorientation, forgetting the identity of relatives, irrelevant talk and some patients even turn violent at times,” he said. He stressed the need to improve awareness of dementia among the public.

“The prevalence of dementia is 3 to 4 per cent in urban and rural Tamil Nadu among those aged above 60 years. Persons aged 60 years and above have a 5 per cent risk of developing dementia, and this jumps to 20 per cent when they cross 80 years. As people live longer and age further, there is an increasing risk of non-communicable diseases and dementia is now a huge public health problem. Alzheimer’s disease one of the major forms of dementia,” said R. Sathianathan, vice chairman of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India.

More than the incidence though, what doctors are worried about is the massive shortage of caregivers. The World Alzheimer’s Report 2013 said the epidemic of Alzheimer’s was creating a shortage of caregivers and that families lacked support to cope with the disease. It calls for additional support to lessen the burden on the individual and said that dementia needed to be a public health priority.

“Often, the spouse takes care of the patient and usually they tend to get burned out by the constant, everyday cycle of caring. What we need are residential or day-care centres,” Dr. Sathianathan said.

These centres could be set up by the government and provide holistic care for those with dementia, and should have an occupational therapist and psychologist. The centres should also provide speech therapy, medical assistance and relaxation, he said. “There should be mental stimulation and somebody to interact with patients on a regular basis,” he said.

Caregivers like Ramaa Kashyap, a social development specialist, said area-wise drop-in centres for the elderly would help immensely.

As she was single with no close family and had a full-time job, she found it difficult to care for her 82-year-old mother and could not find suitable caregivers. Her mother used experiences mild confusion, she said.

“I can engage a person to take care of her but often, they are not reliable. I hired a young girl once but at one point my mother told me she was being hit on the head. There should be drop-in centres where senior citizens can spend time and meet people of their age,” she said.

Dr. Nambi said that a few countries had dementia centres. “The government and NGOs should come forward and start such centres to provide care — either short-term or long-term — to those with dementia,” he said.

Doctors also stressed the need to recognise early memory impairment and the need to frequently screen people aged above 60. Some drugs can help arrest the disease in its early stages, they said.


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@Vinoth: Caregivers of those with Dementia and other neurological
disorders need a lot of support and there is no infrastructure in
place in Chennai to support those of us who are taking care of family
members at home. Building day care centers are just part of the
solution. But it will never help to accommodate the numbers and scale
of patients that are emerging with chronic illnesses that require
care. Also many of the health related support industries are more
interested in turning a profit than providing care. Building a support
system for Family Caregivers who primarily do this work at home is
really essential.

from:  Rama
Posted on: Oct 1, 2013 at 13:02 IST

I have gone through similar problem with my mother for 6 years which even led to my quitting the job as an officer in a PSU bank (not VRS). Even specialists couldn't identify her problem initially which was a simple B12 deficiency.She not only had dementia,she used to scream day in and day out and also became bed-ridden.After I resigned my job,I did a lot of Google search and found the B12 deficiency and she recovered from dementia but was permanently physically handicapped.One thing I understood was that in India old people are cared less - my mother was only 68 when she started having problem.We wish geriatric care centres increase with increase in number of old people in the country.Otherwise the whole family spends those nightmare years only in attending to the affected person.By the time the care givers at home are relieved,they find that they have also become old to pursue their interests.

from:  Vasantha
Posted on: Oct 1, 2013 at 07:48 IST

Excellent article. Articles like these are public service and it is important for people to know both about Dementia and how common it is, affecting both the person and the person's loved ones even more. As the former US Surgeon General under Reagan said, "Knowledge is powerful medicine".

from:  Ashwin Seshadri
Posted on: Oct 1, 2013 at 06:51 IST

this figures are scary. My father was diagnosed with Dementia and he
passed away recently. I am raring to help people affected by dementia
but where do we go? Do we have communities.. online portals were people
and loved ones affected by this dreadful disease can collaborate.

from:  Vinoth Natarajan
Posted on: Oct 1, 2013 at 06:11 IST
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