The World Alzheimer's Month of September is one avenue many individuals and organisations are seizing to spread the news on how to prevent, or at least, slow down Alzheimer's disease Credit: Representational Image

He heads back into the room, rummaging the drawer, this time more frantically. He was sure he kept it there. It was time to take his medication and he needed his glasses to see those tiny pills clearly. He would also need to read the labels all over again; he had forgotten what they said, just as he had forgotten where he dropped his glasses. Just then, his wife, Meera steps in, moves into the bathroom and found the glasses on the water closet. She knew that was the last place he had been, but somehow, he didn’t remember.

For 68-year old Nanigopal Saikia, he didn’t see it coming. He thought he had lived a good life. It happened in the most unprecedented manner, just 12 months after he resigned from his job. Saikia suddenly began to lose interest in decade-old hobbies like playing cards and golf. He no longer felt the desire to come out of the house and interact with people. A typical day for Saikia would be spent on the couch, sleeping or glued to the TV screen. Sleeping was what Saikia spent most of his time doing, a period that significantly increased from 7 hours daily to about 14 hours in some days.

Now 71, the story is still the same for Saikia. His concerned wife, Meera frantically asked around for the best kind of help and Saikia was referred to a certified psychiatrist by his primary healthcare provider. He was initially diagnosed with depression and had been treated with antidepressants. It was after no improvement observed that Saikia was then referred to the psychiatrist.

Saikia’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels had elevated beyond normal, while he continued with medications for the various conditions. After a series of physical examination, Saikia’s psychiatrist realised he had difficulty remembering the week and month of his appointment, but he could name the year it was. He also recalled just one object out of three in two minutes, correctly repeated a full complex sentence without any mistake and also named four common objects accurately.

Saikia was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease with a three-year history of slow, gradual withdrawal socially.

When Namrata Baishya was diagnosed in 2012 with Alzheimer’s disease, she made the decision to approach the diagnosis positively. Baishya had to accept her new condition as part of her life and sought ways to fully maximize the condition as opposed to being depressed. She also decided that being physically active was the way to go to lift her spirits. Baishya picked up hobbies like cycling, even in the winter. As one who spent most of her life teaching, she has found a new incline for spending time with some of her teaching buddies doing some of her favorite activities.

When it comes to new people, Baishya utilizes candor. “I believe it is better to directly tell them of my condition as to prevent any misunderstanding that may arise when I forget any basic personal information like names,” she says. Her optimism is a huge inspiration for many like her as she looks to that day, a day that brightens the future of Alzheimer’s patients as more awareness is created to address the condition.

Tsering Dolma has also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He belongs to the Alzheimer’s & Related Society of India (ARSI) in Mysore, which is a support group for people with chronic dementia. In this support group, everybody shares ideas and reveals their personal interests so that everyone can feel at home.

Many of the patients here, including de Dolma, believe these support groups present an atmosphere that allows for people to be open and socialize freely. “We have to work on things and we have to be good listeners. We are all still functioning, maybe not in the same way as the rest of society, but we are enjoying socialization,” Dolma says.

For people like Dolma, loneliness might be the most devastating factor. Luckily, support groups like the one in Mysore will encourage people with the disease and give them a sense of importance, belonging and respect; a feeling that they are part of something.

There are at least five in every 100 old people in India with dementia

Alzheimer’s disease or “elderly people disease” as it is often called, is a chronic, progressive form of dementia. Dementia describes conditions that occur as a result of brain diseases and brain injuries that negatively affect normal brain functions like memory, behavior and thought processing. This often leads to the changes in the individual’s day to day interactions. Talking about dementia, there are at least five in every 100 old people in India with dementia. This also gives a clear picture of how prevalent Alzheimer’s is in the country.

Generally, Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed after the age of 65. A diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease before the age of 65 is often referred to as “early onset Alzheimer’s disease”.

With Alzheimer’s disease, there are bound to be memory lapses. But there are other symptoms that may worsen as time progresses. These symptoms may be reduced with the use of prescribed medications. Loss of memory of day to day activities like appointments and scheduled meetings is a common symptom among patients. Others include difficulty with familiar tasks, difficulty with writing or speech, inability to solve simple problems or accomplish simple tasks, and many more.

Becoming confused over periods or locations is another very common symptom to note. Some patients with Alzheimer’s disease may also experience reduced sense of judgement, decreased personal hygiene, and gradual withdrawals from the society in general, friends and family.

You may be asking, does Alzheimer’s disease have a cure? Dr Pratima Kumari, Patna Medical College and Hospital says, “There is presently no permanent cure for the disease. However, we prescribe certain medications that will help reduce the symptoms patients may experience. Some of these medications include Rivastigmine (Exelon) or Donepezil (aricept) for mild to moderate symptoms, Memantine (Namenda) or Donepezil (Aricept) for moderate to severe symptoms, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety medications.”

While the search is still on for an actual cure, practitioners advise the best treatment is prevention. “Although there are no definite preventive measures for incurable diseases like Alzheimer, living a healthy and properly nourished life is a good place to start. Other preventive measures like avoiding smoking, eating more brain boosting foods, maintaining a very active social life and engaging in cognitive exercises to train your brain,” Dr Kumari adds.

Dietician Dr Pinaki Dasgupta says, “Fruits, vegetables, grains, low-fat dairy products, legumes, and fish are associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Frequent intake of plant-based foods, nuts and seeds such as pumpkin, chia and flax seeds, and reducing meat consumption could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as of several cancers, diabetes mellitus Type-2, stroke, and, likely, chronic kidney disease.”

The World Alzheimer’s Month of September is one avenue many individuals and organisations are seizing to spread the news on how to prevent, or at least, slow down Alzheimer’s disease. This year the global theme is “Let’s talk about dementia”. The Alzheimer’s and Related Disorder Society of India (ARDSI), present in over 24 cities in India is one such organisation. They are spreading the word about Alzheimer’s disease and its prevalence in India. According to the agency, more old people in India face the risk of getting the disease mostly due to lack of awareness. Since 1992, ARDSI has been focused on providing support and care to people with Dementia and Alzheimer’s. They still carry out their good work providing special care for people with this disease.

With a disease like Alzheimer, there are still many uncertainties. The condition appears to worsen over time as symptoms evolve. Medications prescribed by doctors should slow down the progression, but not on a permanent basis. People with Alzheimer’s disease require caregivers who will patiently cater to their every need and constantly remind them of basic information that they may have forgotten, making it a very tough condition to deal with.

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