Recalling Alzheimer once again ! Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer’s

Dr Mona Nongmeikapam

In lieu of this year’s World Alzheimer’s Day celebration let us run over the facts and reality of Dementia. The triennial theme for 2021-23 incidentally happens to be “KNOW DEMENTIA, KNOW ALZHEIMER’s”. The campaign is focused on diagnosis, the warning signs of dementia, the continued effect of COVID-19 on the global dementia community amongst others.  For 2022, there is a special focus on post-diagnostics support. Following recent developments and potential breakthroughs, in both dementia treatment and support, the campaign aims to highlight the importance of support for people living with dementia and their families following a diagnosis.  
Every three seconds, one person is predicted to be diagnosed with Dementia. A world population of about 50 million adults are affected by this pandemic and the forecast is that the figures will touch 80 million in not so far future. Without us being aware, Dementia is seeping into our neighborhoods, homes, hometowns, bringing confusion and despair. Crores and crores of hours are spent caring for dementia patients each year, draining away precious resources. The escalating numbers in recent times can be attributed to longer lifespans, more awareness and better detection and diagnosis.
Another red flag could be our sedentary lifestyles, the all-encompassing smartphones and the smart TVs that are monopolising all of our leisure time, leaving little time for good old socialising, walks in the parks, interaction with family or kin, playing with children or pets, reading the newspaper or spending hours brooding over an unfinished sudoku or word puzzle. Poorly controlled body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol or sugar levels, Metabolic syndrome, high Body Mass Index or even irregular medications increase the vulnerability. So let us look into a few points that will help us more Dementia aware and in sync with the theme: KNOW DEMENTIA, KNOW ALZHEIMER’s.
• Dementia is a collective name for all progressive degenerative brain syndromes which affect memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion, rendering an individual dependent for routine activities of daily living.
• Dementia is NOT a natural part of ageing.
• Alzheimer’s Disease is just one type of Dementia though it makes about 80-90% of the total Dementia cases put together.
• Vascular Dementia is the second most common type of Dementia.
• The other types of Dementia are Lewy Body Dementia, Parkinson’s Dementia, Fronto-temporal Dementia amongst others.
Warning signs:
• loss of memory-difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying with difficulty in performing previously routine tasks- personality and mood changes.
• Adopting an active lifestyle
• Keeping socially and mentally active
• Avoiding alcohol, nicotine and other substance abuse
• A well-balanced healthy diet and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar level
• Safer road practices to avoid head injuries
• Lowering stress and a sound mental health
• Treatment: There is currently no cure for most types of dementia, but symptoms management, ensuring quality of life of affected individuals and prevention of disease progression can be done by pharmacological and behavioural therapy and support.
• Dementia care:
• A regular predictable schedule
• A daily activity checklist
• Engagement in simple activities and chores to give them a sense of purpose
• A daily dose of brain enhancing activities like reading, writing, puzzles, or reminiscing past events etc. and physical exercise like brisk walking
• Caregiver Burden and burnout: Statistics has revealed that 35% of care-givers world-wide have confessedly hidden the diagnosis of Dementia of a family member and more than 50% of them have reported their own health deterioration as a result of their caring responsibilities even whilst expressing positive sentiments about their role.
• Pseudo dementia: Pseudo-dementia is specifically used to describe the type of cognitive impairment that mimics dementia but actually occurs due to depression and is typically seen in older individuals.
• Healing: Early diagnosis and prompt intervention are the key operative words in its management.
• Why purple for Alzheimer’s? Purple is a combination of two colours- blue for stability and red for passionate energy.  
Take home message:
Alzheimer’s Disease is not about the past - the successes, the accolades, the accomplishments. They offer only in context and are worthless now. Alzheimer’s is about the present and the struggle, the mundane hardships and pains, the fight to live with a disease. Dementia is about caring for one’s own, about burden sharing as a family, as communities, while at the same time prioritising and not compromising on one’s own well-being.

The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Shija Academy of Health Sciences