Dementia, and one of its deadlier forms, Alzheimer’s, is a disease that affects the elderly. It is a degenerative disease that leads to a gradual loss of memory, impaired judgement, loss of communication skills or speech, disorientation, loss of motor ability and balance. It is not only hard on the sufferer, but also extremely stressful for caregivers who witness the slow degeneration of a loved one. With an ageing population, dementia and Alzheimer’s are set to increase rapidly in India. The bad news is that there is, as yet, low awareness about this dreaded disease with the result that, often, it goes undiagnosed.
Shockingly, about 2,500 new cases are reported in India every day and these are only the registered cases. The number of diagnosed cases may be as low as 10% of the total sufferers, according to some estimates. The Dementia India Report 2010 estimated that around 4.1 million Indians would be afflicted by dementia by 2015 and the financial burden of their lifelong care would would be approximately Rs16,300 crore. Worldwide, it is estimated that a massive 4.8 million people are living with dementia and the number of people with the disease has a risk of doubling every 20 years.
Most types of dementia are irreversible; various symptomatic therapies help in managing the disease, if diagnosed early enough. Only in rare cases, it can be reversed, if detected early.
“With medical research leading to a larger percentage of population of senior citizens, it is imperative that we must work hand-in-hand with all stakeholders concerned to draw up a viable policy that can be actually implemented effectively,” points out Vidya Shenoy, honorary secretary, ARDSI (Alzheimer’s & Related Disorders Society of India), Mumbai Chapter.
Founded by Dr Jacob Roy K, honorary vice president of ADI (Alzheimer’s Disease International) in 1992, ARDSI has 20 chapters throughout the country and has a research affiliation with ADI. Meera Pattabiraman, chairperson ARDSI, represents India on the World Dementia Council.
“We, at the Mumbai Chapter, are very proactive in our operations. We hold many awareness talks for corporates, housing complexes and social groups, and sensitise students of schools and colleges. We also organise ‘Memory Walks’, screening sessions at health camps, educational and training modules for caregivers and volunteers, hold support/ peer group sessions and social activities for those affected by dementia. Even sky is not the limit for us ‘to be there’ for these seniors who feel lost and cannot even recognise their own family members: children, grandchildren or even spouse,” says Vidya.
ARDSI (Mumbai Chapter) aspires to reach out to many, many more by spreading awareness and dissemination of information on prevention and management with help of alternative therapies. Most important, on its high-priority wish list, is the need to establish day-care centres, whereby families know that their cared one with dementia is being looked after well. After all, they, too, need some respite from the onus of looking after them continuously. Care-giving, whether by a family member or hired help, takes its toll on them too. Furthermore, Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease, aetiology of which is yet unknown. This makes it absolutely necessary to have 24-hour homes for palliative care. In later stages, persons affected by dementia cannot be managed at home.
Eager to add numbers and funds to her purpose, Vidya has clear ideas about how you can help its effort. “To begin with, may we ask you to be our ‘Dementia Friend’ and actively contribute, in your own way—be it as an individual or as a corporate—to the cause of Alzheimer’s,” she says. Donations to ARDSI (Mumbai Chapter) enjoy Section 80-G tax benefits under the Income Tax Act.
World Alzheimer’s Day was observed on 21st September. This is just the time to gain expertise and spread awareness for this social cause. Life membership of ARDSI is also available.
ARDSI - Mumbai Chapter
BMC School Building, Room Number 27 (2nd Floor),
JJ Hospital Complex, Byculla,
Mumbai - 400 008,
Telephone +91 222 374 2479