The Indian government must step up efforts and invest more into research on dementia, according to health experts.
As the country marks World Alzheimer’s Day on Tuesday, doctors in India say raising awareness on dementia has become more significant due to the rising number of people suffering from it.
Medically, dementia is not defined as a specific disease but is a general term referring to the inability of a person to remember, think, or make decisions. While dementia mostly affects older people, not all elderly are affected.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.
"Dementia should be on the list of the central government’s ‘health policy’ as a health priority. India spends a meager amount on health care. The country should spend more, as this will encourage researchers to engage in dementia research," Dr. Ajaya Mahanta, a top neurologist associated with the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI), told Anadolu Agency.
Mahanta noted that awareness about early diagnosis of dementia is a must, advocating for detailed “medical teaching even at the undergraduate level."
“The media can play an important role in creating awareness and removing the stigma attached to the diagnosis."
She said the government should provide financial assistance to organizations helping people with dementia.
“The government should set up dementia villages in every state, taking help from such organizations.”
According to the Dementia in India Report 2020 published by the ARDSI, the largest group in the country working to create a dementia-friendly society, it is estimated that 5.3 million people in the country above the age of 60 had dementia in 2020, or one in 27 people.
A similar report has estimated that the number will rise to 7.6 million in 2030.
Pandemic adds worries
The health experts also maintain that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the challenges faced by people suffering from dementia.
"Lockdowns and social isolation during COVID-19 increased their behavior problems. They became more irritable, fought with other family members, and some became depressed," said Mahanta.
She noted that if people with dementia contract COVID-19, it is likely to be more severe because of associated comorbidities.
"It is very difficult to hospitalize them. Caregivers (such as family members or spouses) also suffer a lot during this period as their helpers at home are forbidden to attend to their duties," she said. "The government is trying to control this pandemic, but it all depends on us, how much our people follow the rules or SOPs (standard operating procedures)."
Dr. Manjari Tripathi, a neurologist at the New Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences, a top health institution in the country, shared the same view.
"All persons with dementia and the elderly were mostly confined to homes and in some behavioral manifestations have worsened. For some, medication fell short during lockdowns. The burden on caregivers of course increased. Some contracted COVID-19," Tripathi said, adding that the government gave priority to vaccinating the elderly "with comorbidities first, so many were safer."
Dr. M.V. Padma Srivastava, another neurologist, told Anadolu Agency that while the burden of dementia, especially that of vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease has declined over a period of a decade in the West, "there is exponential growth in the developing world, the prototype being India.”
"There are several reasons why dementia is sort of stabilizing in the West. The Lancet Commission report published in 2017 said the mandate should be ‘dementia is preventable’,” said Srivastava, who heads the Department of Neurology, Chief Neurosciences Centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
According to Srivastava, lifestyle modifications and some low-hanging fruit interventions including the "prevention of deafness, taking care of midlife hypertension, vascular risk factors, exercise, diet, social contact and avoiding depression" prevented or delayed 35% of dementia.
"That should be doable in India as well. So that is the clarion call for us," she said.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.