KOCHI: Alzheimer’s disease is one of the prominent emerging diseases among the elderly. Nearly 3.3 per cent of the elderly population over 65 years is affected by dementia, which is the condition of memory impairment.
While dementia is the most important condition leading to Alzheimer’s disease, all conditions of dementia may not lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
It could be of various types, said psychiatrist S. Shaji, who had led the survey supported by Indian Council of Medical Research in Thrissur in 2007.
Survey among elderly
As the life span has increased, there is a different category of ailments and illnesses that have emerged in the medical science, Dr. Shaji said. Indications of the emerging diseases were first found in the survey conducted in Mulanthuruthy in Ernakulam district, in 1995, when 4.4 per cent of the elderly population was found to have dementia.
This was one of the first such surveys in the country among the elderly and has been published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, he said.
Again in another survey in 2005 with random cluster sampling, including 30 divisions in the Kochi Corporation, the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India found that the prevalence of dementia in the elderly was over 3.3 per cent.
From these surveys it was found that the patterns of dementia varied in the urban and rural population.
In the rural population, dementia due to vascular diseases was more and only 40 per cent of those with dementia showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, the survey in Kochi Corporation indicated that 53-60 per cent of dementia constituted Alzheimer’s disease and in Thrissur, 60 per cent of dementia cases were that of Alzheimer’s disease.
Even after many years of knowledge about the disease and a popular film on the subject, people do not think it is an illness or that medical intervention is necessary, said Dr. Shaji.
In most cases therefore the quality of life of the patient and the care giver is affected. It is important therefore to educate the members of the family having an Alzhiemer’s patient. Since Alzheimer’s disease means that the brain is degenerating, behavioural problems are bound to occur.
For violent behaviour drugs can be used, said Dr. Shaji. The costs of these drugs have come down though they are still in the range of Rs.10-15 a tablet.
But, sometimes it may be important to use them to manage the disease. As the Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible, the drugs can only slow down the process of degeneration. Family’s support and care is important in managing the disease. Institutional care could be better in giving therapeutic measures, but it is mainly the support of family that is best in the Indian conditions, Dr. Shaji said.