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Is an elder missing?

How to identify and cope with the signs and manifestations of dementia

“Not bad, Ramani! You’ve allowed your dad to go out all by himself!”

As soon as he heard these words, Ramani dropped the phone receiver mid-air and bolted to his father’s bedroom. The empty room and crumpled bedcovers greeted him, announcing his 65-plus dad’s absence!

Grabbing his bike keys and a shirt, Ramani revved his bike towards Ganapathy Street, scanning here and there for a trace of the man. Turning right, he saw him at Subramanian Street, talking to a stranger. With great difficulty, he had to convince the stranger that his dad had dementia and bring him home.

Well, this is not a stray case of senior senility. Listen to what Mrs. Menon did the other day. Her daughter had dozed off for a few seconds and suddenly woke up to smell something burning and see the room filled with sooty smoke. She rushed inside, only to find her mom sitting in her room in front of a roaring bonfire!

“Amme, what are you up to?” she screamed. “Didn’t you say we can’t throw trash on the street? So I burnt it!” said her mom, looking pathetically like a lost doe!

This was nothing new. Charred milk pots and stoves left to burn had become a regular scene at her home. It was hard to convince her mom that she had Alzheimer’s and that she should not handle fire.

The last straw came from Mr. Mathur who just wandered off and boarded a train to Palakkad without any reason. Luckily for him, he had his Aadhaar card in his pocket. He was escorted home safely.

All these instances point clearly to the debilitating condition caused by dementia.

Dementia is a progressive mental disorder caused due to age. It is not a disease but a depreciation in the mental faculties of a person causing a decline in memory, lack of mental coordination and judgment, and difficulty in social interaction. This may include incoherent or repetitive speech, disjointed thinking, and erratic behaviour.

Dementia refers to a host of mental disorders, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the best-known. Apart from Alzheimer’s, dementia includes other mental health issues such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Pick’s disease, Diffuse Lewy Body disease, vascular dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia and so on. Of these, Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80% of dementia in the elderly, followed by vascular dementia.

Many people in India are hardly familiar with dementia as a mental issue. Some of the educated folks are familiar with disorders such as Parkinson’s as it affected a celebrity like boxer Muhammad Ali!

India ranks second in the world in the absolute number of dementia patients, with a figure of 4.1 million. The Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India expects this figure to double by 2035. With such an alarming increase in the risk of dementia, awareness about the disease is a necessity, and we should have systems to ensure societal help and support for the elderly.

Dementia is caused mainly by advancing age. However, genetic factors, trauma and ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke or trauma can cause or contribute to it.

Damage to brain cells due to age is the reason why dementia occurs. When areas of the cerebral cortex pertaining to memory, thinking, reasoning and so on are damaged or die, these mental faculties get impaired, causing dementia. It is often misconstrued as ‘senility’, and is taken as a symptom of old age. It is not. Senility refers to a decline in the general health of an elderly person and includes cognitive and physical health. But dementia is solely related to mental decline.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s both fall under the same category of mental syndromes, yet they are distinctly different in their symptoms and treatment. Elders with dementia exhibit short-term memory loss. They forget appointments, phone numbers, addresses, names and even the way home! They have difficulty in paying bills, keeping accounts and even in preparing meals. Travelling by themselves and driving are out of the question and social interaction becomes a Herculean task. So if you find your elder exhibiting any of these symptoms, do not ignore them as manifestations of old age and get them checked for dementia.

Dementia is a progressive disorder that worsens with age. Although there is no permanent cure, its progress can be retarded with the right diet, regular exercise and medication. India is a land of nature’s bounty and has its own indigenous cure for every disease or disorder. Our own kitchen herb, haldi or turmeric (Curcuma longa) is considered a cure for dementia. Curcumin appears to have the necessary antioxidants to reduce inflammation and reduce the synthesis of amyloidal proteins that might cause Alzheimer’s and dementia.

So, if those above 60 are around at home, look out for signs of dementia and help them combat it with the right medical and emotional support. Equip elders with senior citizen identity cards and pin them to their person always when they are outside home. This will aid them to get help.

Next time you find an elder wandering about aimlessly, lend a helping hand and try to unite him or her with his or her family. If not, escort them to a police station.

India has a rich heritage of respecting elders, let us preserve it by preventing elders from going missing!

uniqueuma2@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 4:17:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/is-an-elder-missing/article26162427.ece

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