A thought for the elderly and ageing
Sixty-year-old Teresa from Thrissur has always led a busy life; taking care of her grandchildren and cooking delicacies for them until one day she forgot the recipe of her favourite dish. Though she nailed it after much thought, she soon began to experience some difficulties in finding her way home from the market, something that had been a routine task until then.
Initially, her children considered her ‘forgetfulness’ as mere age-related but soon they sensed something was amiss after their loving mom forgot their birthdays and needed help even to fill a simple form.
Teresa was taken to a physician by her children who diagnosed her with mild Alzheimer’s and was subsequently subjected to treatment. After a prolonged period of treatment to slow down the progression of the disease and good care from her children, she was near normal.
In Teresa’s case, it was early diagnosis that helped her get back to life, albeit with good care and medicines.
Experts say early diagnosis of the disease is very important as it allows prompt treatment and thereby address the psychological and social aftereffects of the disease. Besides, it ensures maximum safety to the patients as they can be stopped from undertaking risky jobs like driving, baby sitting or taking care of children and the invalid and using heavy machinery.
However, the sad part is that in Kerala, where only below 10 per cent of cases are even diagnosed, early diagnosis of the disease rarely happens. According to Babu Varghese, staff, Research and Development, Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI), in Kerala, early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is very rare.
“There are various dimensions as to why this is rare. For most of the population, it is lack of awareness that plays the villain. Our society does not consider ‘forgetfulness during old age’ as something serious. They consider it a part of aging. For others, they tend to overlook such things and only notice something wrong after the disease enters later stages,” says Babu Varghese.
For a disease that is so common (over 20 per cent of the population above 60 are said to be suffering from the disease and globally one case is being reported every four seconds), Alzheimer still has a stigma attached to it. Besides, the state is lagging behind even in basic facilities to help the hapless victims. The lack of such facilities too hamper the possibilities of early detection, believe experts.
Adding to the woes is the fact that even after diagnosis, there are no facilities in Kerala to house the patients. “Almost every old-age home in the state lays stress on ‘no dementia’ clause before admitting inmates. One can’t entirely blame the service providers as most of the charity homes here run on 1:40 ratio (one care taker for 40 patients) while for dementia patients it is 1:1 or 1:2. Most of the agencies can barely afford it. And, the government isn’t really helping either,” says Babu Varghese.
Significance of Care-giving
The scenario is not entirely bleak, however. The awareness campaigns undertaken by many agencies have helped relatives and care-givers do a better job in care giving. “ARDSI has been undertaking several campaigns in this regard. We plan to launch a national dementia helpline to provide tips and services to care-givers,” says Babu Varghese. He adds that there is a visible change in the attitude of care givers now.
Formation of interactive forums for the care-givers of dementia patients is significant as sharing tips on care-giving equip and help others to manage a patient at their home. “Community support is equally important. However, there is no common way to provide care. Each patient must be given treatment that according to the degree of his or her disease,” says Babu Varghese.