Dementia: Basic Information & Case for National Policy on Dementia

Dementia is not the name of a specific disease. It is an overall term to describe decline in mental ability so much so that it interferes with the day to day life of a person. Dementia is caused due to damage in brain cells which in turn makes it difficult for the brain cells to communicate with each other. This damage will result in the following symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Inability to communicate and think normally.
  • Cannot retain focus and pay attention.
  • Changes in behaviour and feelings of a person.
  • Decline in reasoning and judgment.
  • Decline in visual perception.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. As of now, scientists are still searching a cure for this disease. Globally, about one in ten people above the age of 65 and one in four above the age of 85 years are prone to dementia.

Why India needs a national policy on Dementia?

  • In India, it has been found that over 4 million people have been affected by dementia.
  • As per the India Dementia Report 2010, an estimated Rs 43,000 is spent annually per family to treat persons with dementia. It is an expensive affair for most of the families in India.
  • With rapid ageing of population in India, the economic and social burden of dementia is likely to increase in the coming years. Globally, India along with China has the highest number of older people.
  • In India, geriatric services still largely remains under-developed. In addition, any talk of mental health issues still remains a taboo.
  • According to WHO, only 10% of individuals are diagnosed with dementia in developing countries.

Is there any global plan on dementia?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had adopted “The Global Plan of Action on the Public Health Response to Dementia 2017-2025” at the 70th World Health Assembly held in May this year. The global plan calls upon the nations to come up with a national dementia policy to achieve targets for the advancement of dementia awareness, risk reduction, recognition of human rights of people with dementia diagnosis, care and treatment, support for care partners and research.

Sadly, out of 194 member countries of WHO, only 29 countries have come up with a plan of action on dementia. As far as India is concerned, it is yet to come up with a national plan on dementia. Under the framework provided by the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), India needs to recognise the rights of people with dementia.

What needs to be done?

By next year, it is estimated that dementia will turn into a trillion-dollar disease. Hence, the Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) has asked the world community to spend at least 1% of the global cost of dementia on public funding for dementia research. Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI) have also urged the Indian government to come up with a national plan on dementia which is to be funded by the union health ministry. ARDSI has successfully partnered with the state government of Kerala creating the first ever public-private partnership for dementia care and awareness. Kerala has the highest proportion of old age people in the country.

The national action plan on dementia should have social, health, legal and economic components embedded in it in order to face various aspects of the disease.

Secondly, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment should lend its helping hand in treating this disease as this disease has many social aspects that requires awareness and service facilities at the community level.

Thirdly, corporate sector can be roped in to fund programmes to train care givers as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Fourthly, steps have to be taken to work towards risk reduction of the disease. Focus should be laid on building resources for strengthening brain health by linking it with physical and spiritual health.

Conclusion

It is pertinent that India needs to come up with national plan on dementia to identify dementia at its earlier stages and have adequate services for its treatment.

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