India urgently needs national dementia policy: Experts

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New Delhi, Sep 21 (IANS) With the increase in the ageing population, India urgently needs to formulate a national policy for tackling rising cases of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia which can impair memory and significantly lower quality of life, health experts have said.

Dementia affects an estimated 50 million people globally and in India, the number is estimated to be 3.7 to four million.

“Dementia is a silent disease as it creeps in slowly. Due to lack of awareness, it remains unknown yet. In India it is slated to rise three-fold to reach 12 million by 2030,” Manjari Tripathi, Professor of Neurology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told IANS.

“There needs to be a national dementia policy with a very clear and well defined action plan for India since India has a sizeable population of Alzheimer’s disease affected people and certain traits like illiteracy and social taboos make the country unique” added Tripathi.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and nearly 5-6 per cent of the people in the age group of 65-70 years in India suffer from this problem.

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The reason behind its exponential rise in India is due to the increasing ageing population in the country.

As per the 2011 census, the elderly population in India stood at nine crore and is expected to double in the next 20 years, making India number one in terms of old age population in the world, experts said.

“Sadly, there is no cure for dementia right now and people who suffer from this problem need a lot of care. With no or very little social security available to people in India and with families getting more and more nuclear, care is hard to come by for the elderly,” noted Tripathi, who is also the President of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI) — a non-profit organisation.

India is the third largest country with high Alzheimer’s cases, after the US and China.

However, unlike these developed countries, India does not have a proper action plan in place to tackle the rise in the disease.

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“No present complete and comprehensive policy exists in India for Alzheimer’s patients. However ARDSI is working towards formulating a national policy and have submitted the same to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as to the Ministry of Social Justice,” R. Narendhar, Executive Director at ARDSI, told IANS.

People need to be educated about the prevalence of such disease in our society and they must shed their taboos and be more accommodative towards the needs and infirmities of an old person in the family.

“The national policy on Alzheimer’s disease can define how many old age homes should be set up and how the elderly can be taken. There also needs to be government funding for such initiatives which is lacking right now,” said Col. V.K. Khanna (retd) Executive Director, at ARDSI-Delhi Chapter.

However, according to Tripathi, the efforts to tackle the disease threat should first begin at the individual and family level.

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“Changes in the brain start formulating early. Amlyoid beta protein starts accumulating in the brain in the 30s, but manifests itself at 60. It is during this 30-year period that utmost prevention needs to be taken care of, because once the disease sets in there is no reversal,” Manjari, told IANS.

She cited the World Health Organisation’s global action plan on dementia, which calls for an urgent need to control blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, depression, stress, as well as improving social interaction and proper sleep as immediate measures for curbing the disease.

Further, she recommended following a Mediterranean diet, which primarily includes plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and nuts.

Replacing butter with oil containing healthy fats such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) like olive oil, as well as limiting the consumption of red meat like mutton, pork, beef may also help in preventing the disease, Tripathi said.

–IANS

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