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How to tell if someone close to you has Alzheimer’s

Liaquat National's Senior Citizens' Centre looks after Karachi's elderly

SAMAA | - Posted: Nov 22, 2019 | Last Updated: 2 years ago
Posted: Nov 22, 2019 | Last Updated: 2 years ago

Photo: AFP

As we grow older, our brains slowly lose the ability to store and recall information. Memory loss is often a normal part of ageing. However, if there are problems in carrying out everyday tasks and changes in behaviour with considerable memory loss, then something is not right.

How do you tell if an elderly person in your family has dementia or Alzheimer’s?

For one thing, they will have difficulty performing daily tasks like dressing, taking care of personal hygiene and handling money, said Professor Haider Ali from the Aga Khan University Hospital at a workshop for Alzheimer’s Disease Thursday.

They might have problems understanding your speech, finding the right words or communicating with you — what is known as aphasia.

Shapes such as faces will be more difficult to recognise. They’ll face issues recognising objects and smells, too. As the disease progresses, they will stop recognising everyone familiar to them.

The Alzheimer’s Association has released ten early detection signs, Professor Ali explained. These are:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

The WHO says 50 million people in the world currently have dementia. As the world’s population and life span increases, this will rise to 66 million by 2030 and 115 million by 2050.

“As life becomes more urbanised, families have less time to care for their elders,” Dr Ayesha Muquim, a neurologist and professor at Liaquat National Hospital, told SAMAA Digital.

With declining focus on the social aspect of elderly care, diseases like Alzheimer’s often go undiagnosed until late stages, she said.

“Families don’t sit and talk with their elders,” Dr Muquim said. “They’re lonely and that adds to the disease burden and leads to depression as well.”

She lamented the shortage of primary care facilities for the geriatric population in Pakistan. Alzheimer’s disease could be detected earlier with proper primary care, such as regular check-ups for blood pressure and blood sugar.

This is because the major cause behind Alzheimer’s in our population is vascular.

One such place catering specifically to elderly people is the recently established Senior Citizen’s Primary Care Unit at Liaquat Hospital in Karachi.

“We recognised this is what the need of Karachi’s urban life was,” Dr Muquim said. “People can bring in their elderly and go in peace to their workplaces knowing their relatives are being taken good care of.”

The centre looks after the social, physical and psychological well-being of senior citizens.

People come to drop off their elderly relatives early morning, Dr Muquim explained, after which they’re given a brief physical examination. The geriatric medicine clinic is nearby for these facilities.

Dieticians assess the patient’s needs and prepare meals according to their health conditions. People from the IT department also come in to teach them how to use a tablet and play games online.

The psychiatry and psychology departments are very actively involved, Dr Muquim said. Since the ER is also nearby, any health emergencies can also be handled timely.

She believes the model can easily be replicated to make it more accessible to families from different income groups.

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