DHA’s Seniors’ Happiness Centre is encouraging families of patients with Alzheimer’s and other related dementias to join the support group. The centre is the sole institution for the elderly in the emirate; it provides a host of inpatient and outpatient geriatric and rehabilitation services.
The centre holds regular support group meetings for caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s and its aim is to provide emotional, educational and social support for family and friends of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.
“Over the years, we have seen the tremendous benefit that a support group offers caregivers,” says Dr Salwa Al Suwaidi, Geriatrician and Director of the Seniors’ Happiness Centre. “They really get the sense that they are not alone on this journey. Caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is often very challenging and simple steps such as discussing coping mechanisms, strategies and just being there for each other helps caregivers deal with the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis in caring for their loved ones.
“I find that we have developed a sense of community. Caregivers get to know each other, they also share experiences and tips as they are in the same situation and that leads to a deep understanding and appreciation of each other’s journey.”
“Patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias suffer from memory and cognitive deterioration, abnormal behaviour, aggressiveness, suspiciousness, insomnia and incontinence and caregivers discuss tips on how to deal with these issues. One of the biggest struggles caregivers face is dealing with the difficult behaviours of the person they are caring for. The support group is particularly useful for caregivers, friends and family members of patients with Alzheimer’s as they can share their experiences and provide much-needed emotional and social support.
“We encourage family and friends of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias to join this group so that we can impart education as well as support them.”
I find that we have developed a sense of community. Caregivers get to know each other, they also share experiences and tips as they are in the same situation and that leads to a deep understanding and appreciation of each other’s journey.
Dr Al Suwaidi says that each time a specialised subject related to dementia is discussed, it provides information that helps develop a multidisciplinary approach to tackling the disease.
She says the centre regularly organises campaigns to raise awareness about the disease and to encourage family members of patients with Alzheimer’s to join the support group.
“Support groups are particularly important for this disease because presently there is still no curative therapy available,” explains Al Suwaidi. “Medications can only delay the progression of the illness therefore coping strategies and behavioural therapies are important. The role of caregivers and healthcare professionals is crucial for timely diagnosis and management of this condition.”
Nearly 70 per cent of patients at the centre suffer from this disease. Dr Al Suwaidi says, “After 65 years, every five years of ageing, the risk of developing the disease doubles and almost 50 per cent of people aged 85 develop this disease. However, many family members do not recognise the first signs of this disease because the symptoms are similar to those associated with ageing or depression.”
Symptoms include forgetfulness, isolation, irritability, suspiciousness and loneliness.
Dr Al Suwaidi advocates the importance of active ageing. “There is no definitive evidence to support that any particular measure is effective in preventing Alzheimer’s. However, there are modifiable risk factors, which can be looked into to promote overall health and wellbeing. Given the fact that life-expectancy has drastically increased, people should focus on active ageing.”
She says that as per 2017 statistics, the percentage of Emiratis above the age of 60 in the UAE is 7 per cent; this percentage is expected to reach 11 per cent in 2032 and 19 per cent in 2050. Life expectancy is also increasing. In the 1960s, in the UAE, life expectancy was 53 years. Today, according to DHA statistics, average life expectancy for the elderly in Dubai is 81 years for females and 78 for males and it is higher compared to some other Middle Eastern countries.
“These statistics highlight the importance of expanding and focusing on geriatric care, healthy ageing and rehabilitation services,” Dr Al Suwaidi says.
In general, she recommends staying active, regular exercise, healthy diet and brain-stimulating activities such as learning a new language, chess, board games and learning new skills.