World Alzheimer’s Day 2020: Let’s talk about Dementia, here’s how to challenge the stigma around it
Ever since 2012, September has been World Alzheimer’s Month. This year on September 21 which is World Alzheimer’s Day, the theme is ‘Let’s talk about dementia’ and an international campaign is being run to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds the disease.
Since there is little or no understanding of Dementia, the stigmatisation and misinformation about the disease is a global problem. Hence, it is important to know the history and significance of the day and how you can provide support.
In 7th century BC, Greek philosopher Pythagoras spoke of “a human lifespan” and called the later years of human life as the ‘senium’. He described a period of mental and physical decline with the term senium. In the late 1500s and early 1600s Shakespeare too wrote about it in some of his great plays like ‘Hamlet’ and ‘King Lear’ where the characters suffered the loss of mental acuity in old age.
It was only in 1901 when a German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer identified the first case in a 50-year-old German woman and the brain condition finally got named after him. Later in 1984, Alzheimer Disease International was founded and in 1994, on their 10th anniversary, they announced the first World Alzheimer’s Day to be observed on September 21 while World Alzheimer’s Month was launched in 2012.
It is important to raise awareness about this brain condition since Alzheimer’s disease affects about 6 percent of people aged 65 years and older but an average of 2 out of 3 people globally have little or no understanding of it nor of dementia, as previous studies indicate. Many even consider this disease is a normal part of ageing which is not true.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia which affects parts of the brain that control memory, thought or judgement and language or communication which are serious enough to interfere with an individual’s daily life. While what causes Alzheimer’s is not known nor there is any cure for it but lowering blood pressure, exercising and not smoking is considered by experts to reduce the risk while medication and therapies may temporarily improve symptoms of hypertension, hearing impairment, obesity, smoking, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes and social isolation.
The 7 stages of Alzheimer’s disease are: stage 1 - no impairment, stage 2 - very mild decline, stage 3 - mild decline, stage 4 - moderate decline, stage 5 - moderately severe decline, stage 6 - severe decline and stage 7 - very severe decline. The seriousness of this disease demands awareness and hence, it is crucial that people should understand and encourage openness and discussion on dementia.
While we need to have curative treatment for dementia, one can help by individualising dementia care, providing life care, support for family members, protecting people suffering from it with timely care, early diagnosis to improve a patient’s condition, discussion, destigmatisation, putting the needs of the patient and family first, reaching out to the dementia patients especially amid lockdown, arranging for support groups’ services and setting up a video or phone conferencing with care partners who can help those suffering from dementia, come up with coping strategies.