At a time when everything is focussed on the young generation, their likes and dislikes, the elderly population is quietly yearning for attention. Their vagaries are many and Alzheimer’s Disease stands prominent among them. As another ‘World Alzheimer’s Day’ arrives, it is important to look at how aware the society is about this disease and how can one help a person afflicted with it.
Dr Soumya Hegde, Associate Director and Consultant Geriatric Psychiatrist of Nightingales Centre for Aging and Alzheimers, points out that over the years there has been a progressive change in the attitude of people about Alzheimer’s. “It is good to see that the awareness among children with parents suffering from Alzheimer’s is growing. It is the family who brings them forward and discuss the issue,” says Soumya.
There are a lot of families now who has at least one member suffering from dementia. And this shows how common the condition has become today. “There are still a lot of people who hesitate to disclose this to people but we always encourage them to share it with people. This will help them understand the problem and be aware of it. Don’t stop taking them out to public spaces because you are afraid or embarrassed about how others will behave,” she adds.
She says that media and films has helped in creating the required awareness. “This subject is discussed thoroughly which helps people become more open and gain better knowledge about the disease. I have noticed that about six years back, patients used to visit us only in the advanced stage. However, today they come to us at a very early stage. Families are realising that it is not a part of normal ageing,” says Soumya
Soumya adds that it is not only about knowing how to diagnose a condition but more about how to educate the society about engaging people with this condition.
The common behavioural disorders that can be noticed in a person are agitation, aggression, wandering, hallucinatory behaviour, anxiety and repetitiveness. However, it is not common in the case of everyone. A lot of patients can only have the short term memory loss and does not have any of these difficulties.
Roshan Jain, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Apollo Hospitals Bangalore, say that there are quite a few cases of Alzheimer’s in the city that he has come across. Though in the West, there are people who have specialised in the field of ‘old age psychiatry’, it is not a subject of study in India. Introducing this can help people to a great extent in terms of being more aware of mental health problems in older adults with dementia, etc.
“Many times, people come for consultation regarding memory problems and on examining, it is understood that they have dementia. There are also those who come to seek help regarding behavioural problems — which can include a change in personality, presenting a more irritable manner and when we explore it is dementia in some cases, and sometimes depression and anxiety can be a cause of underlying dementia. It is very important to raise awareness and sort help at the earliest,” says Roshan.
He highlights that to raise awareness, it is important that the state government and institutions like National Institute of Mental Health need to make formal announcements.
“We need to use both airspace and digital space to present the issues related to dementia. Let’s put the virtual world into practice. Awareness is the best remedy, if there is education, there will be no stigma,” adds Roshan.
It is important to help people with Alzheimer’s with a lot of care and support and make them take initiatives like making the bed, help them fold the clothes, etc. A combination of activities in the three domains — cognitive, physical and mental can help exercise their brain. A friendly pat or a smile is all that the elderly expect. Madhukar, who stays with his elderly parents, says that staying together is the best thing one can do. “We should make sure not to make them feel lonely at any time. They might have their own set of problems but I think staying together and making them feel cared about is an uncompromisable thing.”