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Increasingly large numbers of Pakistanis suffer from dementia – Is there a respite?

25 April, 2019

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Professor Dr. Wasay Shakir, a renowned neurologist and also the president of Pakistan Society of Neurology revealed that there is an approximate 0.2 million people all over the nation that are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and the numbers are increasing mainly due to a sudden rise in life expectancy. He reported this while he was speaking in a press conference with Dr. Muhammad Shahid Mustafa, a neuro-physician and secretary Dr. Abdul Malik to mark September 21st which is the World Dementia Day.

Dr. Wasay also added that 21st September is a day when all such organizations throughout the world focus on their efforts of increasing awareness about the degenerative disease dementia and Alzheimer’s. He mentioned that this disease is the most common form of dementia and that Alzheimer’s is the name given to a group of disorders which impair the functioning of one’s mental health.

How frequently is this disease spreading?
Did you know that every 68 seconds, someone in the country develops dementia? It is also projected that around 5-8% of the people in between the age of 65 and 10-15% above the age of 75 years are afflicted by this disease. The prevalence of dementia is growing and hence the social and economic burden is high. In Pakistan, there isn’t any population-based study on dementia and hence due to not enough research, it is tough to derive the accurate data of the total number of people who are actually surviving with this disease.

Dr. Wasay also added that by the year 2050, Pakistan is going to become the third biggest populated country in the world and they will have a projected population of 380 million, surpassing the US, Indonesia, Brazil and Russia. There is also an estimated 38 million youngsters in between the age of 15 and 24 who have lived the most in the history of Pakistan’s population. This mass will be the most susceptive to dementia and Alzheimer’s by the time it’s 2050.

During the approaching years, life expectancy is all set to rise and hence the economic burden on the nation and also on the individuals who are involved in caring for dementia at home will rise like never before. Alzheimer’s and other mental health disorders will increase drastically and this is why he emphasised on educating more and more people so as to increase awareness about this disease. The doctors and physicians also had to be trained so that they could offer patients and their caregivers the right kind of guidance.

Dr. Wasay also added that the timely intervention of the Pakistani government by providing funding in health and education will ease off the present and future cost of treatment of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. The doctors like Dr. Muhammad Shahid Mustafa recommended people to lead a healthy lifestyle in order to reduce the chances of developing this disease in the long run. Eating a diet that is heart-friendly will diminish risks of the disease.

Fighting the dementia challenge in Pakistan
Dr. Asghar Zaidi found out that that if dementia was a topic among a handful of people, more than half of them would never know what it is and the other half would say that this might be a disease which the old people get. Such is the extent of lack of awareness and this is pressing the need to derive a better and positive outlook on the disease. The developed society needs to make sure that there are more people who understand what the disease and what needs to be done with dementia patients. There are 19 countries which already have their national plan for combating dementia.

What is this disease?
Among the wide array of symptoms, which are the most common ones? In what way does it progress and why is it called a progressive disease? How does it become an increasingly massive burden for the healthcare systems and caregivers? This implies that the societies all over the world are improving at identifying the challenges of dementia and are henceforth becoming more and more accommodating whenever they meet someone who is suffering from this disease. Pakistan is one such country where there is wide scope of improvement in dealing with the challenges of this disease. There are research projects in Pakistan which have focused on understanding the challenges of dementia in the cultural and social context of Pakistan.

Is Pakistan well-armed to fight dementia?
If you consider the country England, they are gradually getting lot more familiar with dementia. However, this is not the case in Pakistan as there is restrained awareness among the public regarding dementia. Most believe that dementia is a natural process of aging which lies secondary to traumatic stressors or other physical weaknesses. Genetics also play a vital role in descending cognitive impairments of elderly members.

One more reason cited by the health experts is the decline in physical activities due to the joint family systems in Pakistan. As there are too many young people to take on family responsibilities in the Pakistan, there is lesser need for the seniors to participate in any work. In this country, the elder generation takes pride in thrusting all responsibilities to their next generation and sit back and rest. However, they don’t realize that this sedentary lifestyle is actually making them more vulnerable to developing dementia.

A new project in Pakistan on dementia
There is a brand new project of dementia that is being funded in Pakistan by Age International, HelpAge International and Age UK. Their research team comprises of partners from the University of Southampton, Sussex Medical School, Aga Khan University of Karachi, HANDS International Karachi and Alzheimer’s Pakistan Lahore. This project specifically has the goal of exploring the different kinds of experience which people have while suffering from mild dementia to severe dementia.

Moreover, qualitative data was collected in Karachi and Lahore and it was analyzed collaboratively by the other project partners in UK and Pakistan. Their goal is to inform programmes and policies to increase dementia awareness and offer support services to people who are suffering from dementia and their home carers. The main work of this project was to include insights into the lives of the people who are living with dementia and their caregivers, especially from low-income and middle-income families. This project also hoped that this would lead to an even bigger project in Pakistan which would align with the WHO’s Global Action Plan on Public Health Response to Dementia.

Healthy living tips to ward off dementia – Bring about few changes to your lifestyle
It has been found out that better fitness levels and cardiovascular fitness among middle-aged people and seniors can reduce the risk of dementia. Researchers and scientists have tracked the treadmill routines of 20,000 mid-aged people and they concluded that all those who performed on the treadmill most optimally were less likely to develop dementia. Exercise is the ultimate key to maintaining a healthy body and mind. Here are few lifestyle tweaks that you should bring about to your lifestyle.

#1: Eat the right foods

There is no denying the fact that human brain is affected by what you eat. If you consume a diet which is rich in veggies, fruits, healthy fats, lean protein, this can give your brain the required nutrients which can reduce inflammation and offer you a steady source of mind. Did you know that the glial cells in the human brain are associated with toxin removal and this can play a vital role in development of Alzheimer’s? There are food items like fatty fish, soy, dark berries, blueberries, green tea and ginger which can safeguard the glial cells from facing any damage or harm.

#2: Look forward to learning new things
Stimulate your mind and challenge yourself to learn something new regularly. Studies reveal that people whose brains remain active due to organization tasks or multitasking or communicating or interacting are less susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s when they grow old. If you want to know about the tips to stay sharp, try to learn a new musical instrument or study a new language, read more, solve crossword puzzles and challenge yourself with different games of memorization.

#3: Avoid suffering from any brain injury
If you have to go to work by a car or a bike, be careful about wearing a helmet or the seatbelt while driving a car so that there is no risk of suffering from any brain injury while driving. Drive your bike and car carefully so that you don’t meet with sudden accidents as trauma can also lead to dementia in the long run.

#4: Try to take short naps under the sun
Who doesn’t know the great feeling of getting a sound sleep at night? We all know that sleep is something that can have an impact on your thought process, on your memory and your mood. All these are important for improving your brain health and for preventing cognitive impairments. There are few researchers who have associated Vitamin D with minimizing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Scientists from different universities found out that Vitamin D is responsible for activating the signal of the brain and also eliminates plaque.

#5: Cut off stress and stay socially active
You should be sure about eliminating all sorts of stress from life or even though you may have too much of stress, you should know how to control it. You need to remember that there can be nothing good that can ever happen to you when you stress about it. Stress can worsen all sorts of health conditions and it is often seen to be responsible for getting overwhelming feelings and forgetfulness. One more thing to take into account is to stay socially active. Isolation is usually a silent killer as long as Alzheimer’s is concerned. You can stimulate your mind by staying social.

#6: Quit smoking
Studies also reveal that quitting the habit of smoking tobacco cigarettes can also diminish your vulnerability to this neurodegenerative disorder. It has been seen that those who didn’t smoke cigarettes, they are much less susceptible to these diseases.

#7: Treat depression if you have it
There are also evidences that untreated depression can sometimes lead to dementia. So, if you find the few initial signs of depression, you should immediately seek help of a general physician. If he asks you to consult a psychiatrist, do so and get yourself treated so that you can soon come out of it. In case you make the mistake of not treating depression, you will be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Foods that can prevent dementia
As it has already been mentioned that Pakistan has to increase its awareness on dementia and they should spread awareness on the various foods that people should take to ward off dementia. Here are few foods to opt for:

Raw leafy veggies: Have the darker greens like romaine, kale, spinach as they have brain-boosting antioxidants and are also rich in Vitamin K. Take one cup of veggies daily.

Blueberries: All sorts of berries have a positive impact on the health of your brain and blueberries usually have the biggest impact. They have flavanoids and hence should be consumed 3 times in a week.

Cruciferous veggies: Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts are all rich in glucosinolates and Vitamin K and all these have a strong antioxidant impact. Have at least ½ cup of cruciferous veggies in a week.

Nuts: Unsalted nuts are high in healthy fats and antioxidants. If you have walnuts, they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and are good as a nutrient for your brain.

Beans: Lentils, beans and chickpeas are all proper for the health of your brain and they also have a combination of fibre, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. Have at least half a cup of beans in your diet at least twice a week.

So, if you’re residing in Pakistan, you should be excessively aware about the disease called dementia. Keep in mind the above mentioned lifestyle and diet changes so that you can ward off dementia.

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