We have indeed come a long way from 1994, when The World Health organization dedicated September 21st
as World Alzheimer's Day
. It is an annual remembrance of a chronic disease of 'forgetfulness' that grips its victims, and wipes out any semblance of order in their lives, leaving even the most intellectual at the mercy of caregivers.
Often, many of the tell-tale signs of dementia, of which Alzheimer's is the most common form, are dismissed as signs of ageing. Dementia poses a huge health challenge considering the 100 million 60+ senior citizens in India. These figures are only expected to rise to 198 million by 2030, signalling the need for more awareness about the condition.
In order to address this major setback, the theme for World Alzheimer's Day 2012 is 'Dementia: Living Together'. The objective of this theme is to reduce the stigma associated with dementia that exists in our communities. Often, misconceptions exist due to ignorance and this causes judgements to be made on distorted facts. WAD2012 is an endeavour to change the attitudes of people towards victims and support caregivers in their effort to provide quality care for their dear ones in the throes of a debilitating disorder.
Stigma and Alzheimer's disease
Many Indians consider Alzheimer's as a disease of the West and are unaware of its signs and symptoms. Unfortunately, stigma about dementia coupled with ignorance causes families to disregard early symptoms and put off timely action.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a complex brain disorder, which takes its name after the German physician, Alois Alzheimer, who first identified the disease in 1906. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia affecting people over the age of 60.
Statistics show that each year the challenge of Alzheimer's disease goes up with nearly 350,000 fresh cases. Since, Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system, victims suffer lapses in memory as well as reduction in their mental abilities.
From an erstwhile intelligent person to someone incapable of performing thinking tasks, Alzheimer's can lend a deadly blow to the victim, as well as depress even the best of caregivers.
Behavioural changes, alterations in mood, drastic reduction in mental abilities, memory loss, confusion, anxiety, fear and even depression are signs of gradual progression of the disease which must be taken in the right spirit in order to focus on planning and strategising quality of care.
Statistics has shown how diagnosis of the disease has got unduly delayed due to misinformation, stigma and fear associated with the disease. In some cases, there has been a delay of six years between the onset of symptoms and diagnoses. Many people still believe that depression and Alzheimer's are a normal part of ageing and do not take symptoms seriously.
World Alzheimer's day 2012 is a reassurance to caregivers and victims that they are not fighting a lone battle. To remove the stigma and myths around the disease and to step up awareness is undoubtedly the way to go. To tackle one of the most devastating diseases of the brain, what we clearly need is better planning and strategies to help victims and caregivers respond more positively to the disease.