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Technology is now available to help in diagnosis and detection of early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr Pravat Mandal, Additional Professor, National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), Manesar, a simple non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or brain mapping can track or detect changes in the brain. “Early detection can help in improving the quality of life of people suffering from AD,” said Dr Mandal.
Speaking at a consultation organised by HelpAge India on the eve of World Health Day (April 7) in Delhi, Dr Mandal revealed that this new research had identified reliable biomarkers which could indicate mild cognitive impairment or early signs of Alzheimer’s.
The consultations marked the beginning of a year long campaign by HelpAge India on “Health and Ageing”, the World Health Day theme for the year.
“Alzheimer’s is a silent tsunami for senior citizens as it results in chronic functional disabilities, said Dr Manjari Tripathi, Additional Professor Neurology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
India has a population of over 90 million elderly in India. Only 12 other countries in the world have a total population that is higher.
With life expectancy expected to increase from 64.2 years in 2000-05 to 75.4 in 2045-50, the number of 'oldest olds’ or those above the age of 80, is projected to increase from 78 lakh to 5.14 crore in 2050.
Twenty percent of them will suffer from Alzheimer’s (AD), a form of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behaviour.
Dr Tripathi, who is also president of the Delhi chapter of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI), collaborated with NBRC in brain research for these biomarkers. She said that although 50 per cent of those over 85 who suffered from Alzhemier’s, three to four per cent of those over 65 also had AD.
This sea change in the country’s demographic and social profile had necessitated a new policy for older people said Ms Sujaya Krishna, joint secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). “The new National Policy for Senior Citizens, 2011l prepared by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, (still awaiting Cabinet approval), is a government initiative in keeping with the growing population of the elderly. The proposed new policy suggests the setting up of a National Centre for Older Persons suffering from dementia and mental diseases in Delhi.
Ms Krishnan said that the MoHFW had formulated a national policy for healthcare of the elderly to promote dedicated healthcare facilities for the elderly.
This envisaged dedicated facilities in 100 districts in 21 states with geriatric units at even the primary health centres.”
According to Dr A B Dey, Dean Research and Chief of Geriatric Services in AIIMS, the government’s thrust on geriatric facilities was very important. “The lack of medical infrastructure means that a younger person with a problem is given preference over an older person because his chances of survival are less. With access to healthcare being one of the biggest problems for the aging, dedicated health facilities were critical for their welfare”, he said.
The new National Policy for Senior Citizens, 2011, focuses on the phenomenal increase in the number of “oldest olds,” a new term coined for those over 80. They are expected to form 15 per cent of the country’s population by 2050, pointed out Mr Mathew Cherian, CEO, HelpAge. “At present, 3.7 million suffer from Alzheimer’s out of which 2.1 million are women. A National Commission for Older People to look into problems of the elderly including dementia related issues has been suggested for Delhi in the XII Plan by the committee that drafted the new policy.”
The committee came into being after Mr MM Sabharwal, President Emeritus, HelpAge India who just turned 90, shared with Mr Mukul Wasnik, the minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, the urgent need to revise the policy for older people that had been formulated in 1999. “He immediately instituted a committee to draft the new policy.
We suggested that the people over 80 as well as their companions should get air and rail concessions. Midday meals for older persons in villages, especially for those staying on their own, and a national helpline for older people on the lines of Childline have also been suggested. In addition, we have recommended housing, economic empowerment and income security, homecare and health insurance for the oldest olds,” he said.
Dr Rajesh Sagar, additional professor, Department of Psychiatry, AIIMS, said that in India the quality of care given for the elderly, particularly those with dementia and AD, depended on the caregivers.
Poonam Natarajan, chairperson, National Trust, who shared her personal experience of looking after her mother, a teacher, who suffered from AD, said that while families were the best caregivers, there was a need to train more young people to take on this responsibility with an increase in AD cases.
Neelam Mohan, founder of Panchvati Home, pointed out that her residency was like a home away from home and gave all the residents the freedom to do whatever they wished.