Dementia is a neurodegenerative condition that affects the cognitive functioning of the brain like thinking, reasoning, and remembering to such an extent that it hinders the day to day normal activities of an elderly individual. It affects the elderly population, is progressive in nature, and may take anywhere between 2-10 years for stages to progress.
Neha Sinha – CEO & Co-founder, Epoch Elder Care and dementia specialist – told HealthWire that an elderly with dementia show varied symptoms across stages. “Initial symptoms are short term memory loss, loss of language, repetition of words and sentences, inability to remember names of common objects, and confusion. It is often accompanied by some behavioural changes such as anxiety, agitation, wandering, suspiciousness, hallucinations & depression, etc,” Sinha said.
“Signs and symptoms of dementia result when once-healthy neurons (nerve cells) in the brain stop working, lose connections with other brain cells, and die. While everyone loses some neurons as they age, people with dementia experience far greater loss.”
Here are excerpts:
Q: How serious is this problem? Also, does the condition of dementia patient deteriorates with aging?
Neha Sinha: Globally, there are close to 55 million cases out of which India alone has more than 5 million reported cases. Due to a lack of awareness, the number is speculated to be much larger in India. More than 10 million cases are diagnosed each year. It is currently the seventh-largest cause of death. More than 60% of healthcare practitioners incorrectly think that dementia is a normal part of ageing. (Source: ADI International) Dementia affects the person and the caregiver; psychologically, physically, and financially.
Dementia is progressive in nature which means it is irreversible. But a supportive environment and a compassionate caregiver can help delay the progression to greater extents. Similarly, a stressful environment, comorbidities, poor communication, decline in physical health can all contribute to much faster deterioration.
Q: Which age group is most prone to it and why?
Neha Sinha: The strongest risk factor for dementia is aging. The age group that generally gets affected is 60+ and studies show that elders who are 85 and above may have one or the other forms of dementia.
However, many seniors live their span without any sign of dementia. One needs to understand that dementia is common as people age, but it is not a part of normal aging!
Q: What kind of care elderly need?
Neha Sinha: An elder with dementia needs holistic care and more importantly a supportive environment. We must first ensure they are physically fine and co-morbidities are managed. Educating oneself about the disease and what to expect is crucial in setting own expectations. In addition, a trained caregiver who can help assist in all daily activities such as bathing, grooming, or eating is necessary. Understanding how to communicate with an elder with dementia and helping them communicate with you is very important for their well being. Lastly, understanding triggers for changes in behaviour such as an increase in anxiety or anger must be identified and managed using non pharmacological approaches.
Q: What are some myths and facts related to this illness?
Neha Sinha: Myth 1: Dementia is a normal part of ageing. No, it’s not- elders can live up to 100 years without showing much cognitive decline.
Myth 2: All memory loss is dementia. There can be reversal types of dementia due to hormonal changes, side effects of drugs, or trauma. The only loss of memory is known as amnesia. Dementia is a global decline in cognition, not just memory loss. Also, memory loss in dementia starts with short term memory loss.
Myth 3: Dementia is hereditary. Dementia has a strong genetic link but is not hereditary which means if one of your parents has dementia you are at a higher risk of developing it later in life.
Myth 4: Memory exercises will help regain memory. Loss of memory in dementia is because of loss of neurons in the area of our brain responsible for creating memories (hippocampus)- it is akin to a brain injury that cannot be reversed. Playing memory games will only add strain to the already injured part of the brain.
Myth 5: Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are 2 different things. Dementia is the umbrella term, and Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia. There are several other types of dementia such as Vascular dementia, Fronto-temporal dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Dementia with Parkinson’s, and Mixed dementia.