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Senior Citizens: Special care is needed for the elderly who are living with dementia

09:21 AM Apr 10, 2021 | Dr A K Sen Gupta

Dementia-Meaning and Extent:

Dementia is a type of brain disorder that impacts two main functions of brain: memory and proper judgemental abilities. This results in moderate to serious memory loss, inability to think and act properly and thus impedes normal functioning of cognitive abilities. Person often gets confused, forgets to remember even near and dear ones, loses ability of reasoning, gets confused with numbers or words and becomes a childlike individual.

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This is a serious global issue. According to Vidya Shenoy, Secretary General, Alzheimer’s & Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI), “Globally, over 50 million people are living with dementia. Every three seconds someone in the world develop dementia. Presently, 60 per cent people live with dementia in low and middle-income countries.”

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India is no exception to the global problem. Population of people suffering from dementia is roughly 3.5 million and this is likely to go up to 13 million by 2050. Though dementia can set in at an early age of 30s or 40s, the most number of people suffering from it are in age group of 65 plus.

Care for elderly with dementia:

The disease cannot be cured. What to a limited extent is possible through modern medicine is to arrest its fast spread. But that also has limited impact. Taking care of such people who have lost sense of understanding / interpreting / memory thus becomes utmost important. Prime responsibly rests with family members at least in the earlier phase. However, as symptoms persist and increase, it becomes virtually impossible for the family members to take care of such elderly people on 24*7 basis. Role of caregivers then becomes crucial as they play a significant role in lives of such elderly people. According to Vidya Shenoy, “Role of caregivers is silent and multidimensional that looks into physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of those being cared for. A caregiver is ‘human multi-vitamin’ who must be empathetic, patient and compassionate, by making the impossible, possible and do something that would better quality of life of those living with dementia or any terminal disease that needs palliative care.”

Family members:

Role of family members is equally important in managing physical and mental being of an elderly person with dementia. They must act in a very positive manner, must not consider it as a curse and look after well-being of the affected person with love and care. This is the phase of life which is difficult both for the elderly person as well as family members as they have to manage their own emotions as well.

Specialized homes:

Sometimes, it is not possible for family members to take care of elderly persons with dementia, at home, with dedication it deserves. There may be lack of facilities or trained caregiver. Here come the role of specialized day care centres / old age homes dedicated for such people who need 24*7 support and care. Unfortunately, in India, such specialized old age homes are rare to find. For example, in Mumbai, the elderly population (60 plus) is around 15 lacs out of which around 75,000 people suffer from dementia (estimated 5 per cent). Even if we assume 25 per cent of them to be severely affected requiring maximum attention, number will be around 18,000 to 20,000. For catering to such a large population, we have hardly any professional caregiver support system. The oldest specialized name is Dignity Foundation that runs a professional day care centre (since 2004) for persons with dementia. One of the specialized old age homes for elderly with dementia in the city of Mumbai is Aaji Care Home Health Services that has 3 centres in the city. Started in 2014 by Prasad Bhide, they plan to have around 30 such centres in different parts of the country. We need many such dedicated specialized old age homes. The government should also set up a few dedicated senior homes.

Conclusion:

Dementia is a disease caused by damage to brain cells resulting in impairment of logical thinking and memory. Though it is not age related, there are more chances of it happening with elderly people. Very unfortunately, in overwhelming majority of the cases, we are not able to identify early symptoms. What is needed is to take care of people with dementia with utmost care, love and passion. Under no circumstances, family should consider it as stigma. The extended family members and society at large, should take such cases with sensibility. It can happen to anyone and we need to be sensitive to handle such people with love and care.

(Author sincerely acknowledges input from Vidya Shenoy, an expert on Dementia in writing this piece.)

Dr A K Sen Gupta is Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at aksengupta51@gmail.com or 9821128103.

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