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Spending time with Alzheimer’s victims

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The spirit of it: Alzheimer’s patients at Snehasadanam in the city participating in celebrations organised as part of World Alzheimer’s Day on Sunday.
The spirit of it: Alzheimer’s patients at Snehasadanam in the city participating in celebrations organised as part of World Alzheimer’s Day on Sunday.

Sangeetha Unnithan

Volunteers, patients get together on World Alzheimer’s Day

Thiruvananthapuram: Like most medical students, George Koruth finds little time for fun and amusement in between his busy academic schedule. Yet, every Saturday evening, the 24-year-old final-year student at the Government Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram makes it a point to call on a group of elderly people who have little in common with him.

“I come here every week, just to spend time with the elderly people here and engage them in various activities. It is truly a humbling experience for me,” says George about his interaction with Alzheimer’s patients at ‘Snehasadanam,’ a dementia care centre at Chaka under the Kerala chapter of the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI).

George is a volunteer at ‘Snehasadanam.’ The centre, which is one of the only two such institutions in the State under the ARDSI, has nine patients including seven in-patients. On Sunday, workers, volunteers, patients and their families got together at the centre to observe World Alzheimer’s Day. A seminar on Alzheimer’s and an Onasadhya was also held as part of the programme.

“My work here is to engage the patients in various activities. Being active and moving around is very important for Alzheimer’s patients. The best thing you can do to them is to talk or keep them active in what is most interesting to them,” says George.

Like George, the majority of the caretakers and staff at Snehasadanam are young people for whom taking care of the ailing Alzheimer’s patients is more than just a job. Right from feeding them to dealing with their incontinence, these caretakers go through all the difficulties encountered by the patients and try to help them overcome the problems. Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder. Memory loss, cognitive impairment and wandering tendency are some of the major symptoms of the disease.

“The most important thing about looking after Alzheimer’s patients is to not irritate the patients and to not get irritated yourself,” says Sheena Philip, the 24-year-old administrator of the centre. “They should never feel abandoned. Even though it could be very difficult to get along with their whims, we should try to keep them happy and contented as far as possible,” said Ms. Philip who stays at the centre round-the-clock along with another nurse.

While Alzheimer’s disease in itself is devastating for the patients, it also takes its toll on those who take care of them. The relatives and immediate family members may also require professional help and counselling to take care of their sick kin, says Snehasadanam director Abraham Simon.

“Before starting this centre, the ARDSI Kerala Chapter had been involved in creating awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and patients. Ideally, we should try to retain the patients in the surrounding that is most conducive to them and is most live in their memory. But this may not be always possible,” Mr Simon said. It is also important to not ask them negative questions and keep challenging their memory, he said.

While the ARDSI Kerala Chapter is active since 1992, it is only in January 2008 that a full-time centre for Alzheimer’s patients was started under its aegis in the city. It is the growing number of Alzheimer’s cases that led to the establishment of the centre. “Even the facilities here are not sufficient compared to the enquiries we receive. We cannot cater to patients who depend on tube-feeding and respiratory supplies. We are thinking of upgrading the facilities but financial and space constrains pose hurdles,” Mr. Simon said.

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