Today is World Alzheimer’s Day that is meant to remember those who forget. Nationwide, organisations, cities, old age homes, health institutions and governments observed the day in different ways, undeterred by the current pandemic.
This year’s theme ‘Let’s Talk About Dementia’, is the first step towards acknowledging a societal problem that largely remains hidden. Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation flashed dementia awareness messages on all their billboards while FM Radio stations in Kolkata aired plays on the disease. States like Karnataka and Kerala and cities like Hyderabad and Coimbatore are ahead in the awareness curve. Odisha is evidently lagging behind, in fact, it is yet to start.
Estimating the numbers will establish the size of the elephant in the room. According to Dementia India Report, 2018 published by Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI), Odisha will have 2,15,800 confirmed cases of Alzheimer’s by 2026 growing by 125 per cent in two decades from 2006. Earlier in 2011, the Status of Elderly in Odisha report by United Nations Population Fund assessed a prevalence rate of 15 dementia cases per 1,000 population in the State that implies over half a million people with dementia (PWD) in the State as on date.
In a more recent paper titled “Health Concerns of Older Adults: Observations from a Survey & Public Education Programme in Bhubaneswar” published in March 2019 in the Journal of The Indian Academy of Geriatrics, “memory disturbances were reported in around one in four” people surveyed. Closer home, a Bhubaneswar-based home nurse provider says that almost a third of the people their caregivers attend to show symptoms of dementia. In absence of any dedicated facility, institution or research, identifying those in need of support is like chasing shadows.
Wherever dementia is recognised, it remains a stigma. A family member of a person with Alzheimer’s curtly asked me to stop contacting them as they had grown-up children. How was it linked - I asked? Their apprehension was that if their mother was identified with ‘mental problems’ it could lead to difficulties in finding marriage matches for grandchildren.
It is not just for governments to deal with Alzheimer’s. The proven path for dealing with dementia is to create awareness across all levels, establish memory screening clinics, form collaborations with medical institutions and set up support groups that provide a forum for caregivers to discuss challenges they face.
Ironically, not a squeak was heard today in Odisha about Alzheimer’s. It is never too late but let us not wait till memory fades.
(Amar Jyoti Mahapatra is founder-Chairman of Alzheimer’s & Related Disorders Society of India, Bhubaneswar Chapter, co-founder of Silver Age Foundation for Elders. ARDSI’s Bhubaneswar Chapter can be reached on phone +91 9090222666.)