Seventy six-year-old Subbarao (name changed) would often forget the names of his family members. He would go to the bank nearly every day and ask for his monthly pension, and repeatedly open drawers and look at his papers. Most of these actions caused frustration among his family members.

After a year of prolonged short-term memory loss, a psychiatrist diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s.

He has been under treatment for the last six months, and although his condition has not improved, his family is now aware of the disease.

They gave Mr. Subbarao an electronic alarm clock to remind him of the date on which he has to collect his pension.

“Taking such measures helps reduce his anxiety,” said Soumya Hedge, a geriatric psychiatrist at Nightingales Centre for Ageing and Alzheimer’s (NCAA).

According to the Dementia India Report 2012 prepared by the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI), by 2015 India will have an estimated 4.41 million people aged above 60 with dementia.

As World Alzheimer’s Day is observed on September 21, city-based psychiatrists say that with increased life expectancy, cases of Alzheimer’s have been on the rise and more facilities are needed for diagnosis.

Dr. Hedge says that Alzheimer’s has no cure, but diagnosis is important so that the patient and family members can take precautions to slow down deterioration.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder that can be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Some of the symptoms include confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings and loss of short-term memory. In the later stages, this could also lead to long-term memory loss.

Dr. Hedge mentions that the disease is classified in three stages: mild, moderate and severe.

Diagnosis

Psychiatrists say that a combination of neurological tests and monitoring the patient’s day-to-day activities help in diagnosing the disorder.

Prevention and treatment

V.P. Rao, president, iBRAIN LifeSciences, an organisation involved in research on Alzheimer’s patients, said that care could be taken to reduce deterioration.

He also added that medication helped in this process.

Dr. Rao said, “Doctors prescribe drugs based on which stage of Alzheimer’s the patient is suffering from.”

Dr. Hedge said that prevention of Alzheimer’s mainly involved controlling risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol.

Along with medication, physical exercise and yoga is recommended by psychiatrists. A nutritious diet rich in folic acid, vitamin B-12 and vegetables is recommended.

Dr. Hedge said, “Learning something new such as a language, solving crossword puzzles and playing memory games will also help in preventing and managing the disease.”