Indians seem to be cocking a snook at dementia. Healthcare might leave a lot to be desired, and they might be poor by many standards. But they seem to be in a position to lead a relatively healthy life.
A BBC correspondent who visited Ballabgarh district in Haryana in northern India has gone back impressed. The area is situated 35 km from the Indian capital of New Delhi, the population surviving through agriculture and largely illiterate. There was very little of the debilitating dementia among the elders in the region, she has confirmed.
Jane Hughes chose to visit the area on hearing of a study carried out in the nineties and which concluded dementia was the lowest in Ballabgarh .
The Indo-U.S. Cross-National Dementia Epidemiology Study was a collaborative project of the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, and the Centre for Ageing Research, India (CARI), in New Delhi. Its two primary goals are to investigate
the epidemiology of the dementing disorders among the elderly in the rural district of Ballabgarh in northern India, and to compare the results with those being obtained from the Monongahela Valley Independent Elders Survey (MOVIES project) (Ganguli et al., 1993),
an ongoing study in a rural community in Pennsylvania (U.S.A.).
A considerable challenge was posed by the fact that the Ballabgarh population was exclusively Hindi-speaking and of rural northern Indian culture, poorly educated, and largely illiterate. In developing the Hindi battery, we reasoned that the cognitive variables on which comparisons were to be made between Indian and American populations had to have similar meanings and be susceptible to similar interpretations in the groups being compared, the researchers had said.
Even after the scientists factored in the lower life expectancy of people in this area, the rate of Alzheimer's disease was significantly below those in the UK - and less than a third of those in parts of the US.
"We had a hunch that rates here would be lower," says Dr Vijay Chandra, one of the study authors. In fact, they found what appeared to be among the lowest rates of the condition ever recorded by scientists.
It is a farming community, so most of them are very physically active and most eat a low-fat, vegetarian diet. Obesity is virtually unheard of. Happy mind leading to happy brain perhaps. The Indian way of life where pressure to perform and move up the social ladder is relatively less and family support is more is perhaps the key dementia-free atmosphere.
But coming to think of it, such could be the case anywhere in India. A caveat is the World Alzheimer's Report 2009 estimates that by 2020 there will be 10 million dementia patients in India, the figure more than doubling in the two decades thereafter. It has also been claimed that Indians are less willing to acknowledge memory loss in their elders.