September 21 every year is observed as World Alzheimer's Day while the whole month is dedicated to bringing awareness about Alzheimer's and other dementia conditions that over 50 million people worldwide suffer from today.
According to ALZ or Alzheimer's Disease International, a new dementia case is registered every 3.2 seconds totalling up to 9.9 million cases worldwide per year. That brings us to our first question.
Is dementia the same as Alzheimer's?
Dementia describes a range of symptoms that are associated with deteriorating memory or other thinking skills, the most severe of which can affect day-to-day functioning of the person. Dementia is not a specific disease but a broad categorisation in which Alzheimer's disease accounts for over two-thirds of all diagnosed cases. There are over a 100 different forms of dementia besides Alzheimer's.
Is Alzheimer's a condition of extreme old age?
Yes. While most dementia patients including sufferers of Alzheimer's are elderly, the average age limit for the diagnosis is just 65, which is young given latest medical care facilities and resultant life expectancy. This increased life expectancy also means that there are more people prone to be diagnosed with dementia because of the rising overall numbers of elderly people in the world.
According to the World Alzheimer's Report of 2015, China leads this race with the highest rate of elderly population growth in the world followed by India; thus increasing susceptibility to dementia diagnoses.
People diagnosed with Alzheimer's slowly start forgetting simple things, almost annoyingly, which then can progress to total memory loss and short-term memory loss. They might become unable to recognise or remember family members or to even do basic daily activities like tying a shoe lace.
Dementia and Alzheimer's in media
A cinematic masterpiece, with the protagonist suffering from Alzheimer's, was the Malayalam movie 'Thanmathra' in which the South Indian actor Mohanlal was lauded for his performance.
Still Alice, released in 2014, also features a protagonist who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's (5 per cent probability out of all Alzheimer's cases). Another widely popular film that loosely touched upon the disease was Notebook, adapted from the book of the same name by Nicholas Sparks.
From figures released by ALZ, only 50 per cent of all dementia cases in the world are ever diagnosed as such. Low income and medium income countries have very restricted access to treatment and care, if and when the condition is diagnosed. This is what organisations like ALZ are promoting awareness for; to ensure a proper diagnosis process and an affordable health care scheme which can promote quality of life.
Know someone with Alzheimer's?
We were in touch with Professor Graham Stokes for an earlier piece. Now Director of Memory Care at HC-One, he was former Global Director for Dementia Care in Bupa.
With over 30 years of experience in specialist dementia and Alzheimer's care, he said, "For many people living with Alzheimer’s disease, their biggest fear is losing their personality. However, to support someone with Alzheimer’s there are things we can all do to help them be at their best."
Here are five things he suggests caretakers and family should remember when dealing with Alzheimer's patients.
I am still the same person
For most people living with Alzheimer’s it’s important to them not to be defined by their condition, rather they should be defined for the person they have always been. Over time as their condition advances, you will notice changes in their behaviour, they will become more forgetful or possibly distant, but it’s important to focus on the things that make them who they are.
I can live well with Alzheimer’s
Staying physically and socially active is really key to ensure the wellbeing of a person living with Alzheimer’s. However, it’s important to let the person with Alzheimer’s be who they have always been. So, if the person living with Alzheimer’s has always been introverted, the person who’s caring for him will need to balance the benefits of social activity with the fact they may find it quite distressing to suddenly change their social habits.
Focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t
For people living with Alzheimer’s disease, the focus is usually on what they can’t do rather than what they can do. They may stop being asked to babysit their grandchildren or do the little things like make a cup of tea when there is no good reason. This can feel disempowering, especially if they’re still able to do these things.
I can still have meaningful relationships – don’t be shy around me
During the early stages of Alzheimer’s people are still able to communicate as they did before their diagnosis. Just make sure you keep your conversation with the person simple: instead of saying ‘would you like to go outside or stay in today’ just say ‘would you like to go outside?’
I still need company, even if I don’t remember that you’ve been here today
If the person is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, they may not remember you visited them, or know who you are - but in the moment you’re with them, they are able to enjoy your company. Although the person with Alzheimer’s may forget that they saw you today, that feeling of companionship can stay with them throughout the day.