Dementia, a heart-breaking incurable illness

It is a challenge for any caregivers to look after those who had been diagnosed with dementia.

It’s never easy for anyone when it comes to dealing with dementia.

It is already heart-breaking for people with dementia to not remember their loved ones, but when they start to lose the ability to carry out everyday activities such as bathing, dressing, and feeding, this becomes the ultimate challenge to most caregivers.

Dementia, which characterises a range of symptoms including a decline in memory and thinking skills, can negatively affect a person’s ability to perform their daily activities.

Few are diagnosed in the early stages, and many only seek treatment at a later stage.

Recent studies and reports have suggested that dementia is on the rise.

A review article published in the Asean Journal of Psychiatry in 2011 titled 'Dementia in Malaysia: Issues and Challenges' by Azlina Wati Nikmat, Graeme Hawthorne and S. Hassan Ahmad Al-Mashoor, noted the prevalence of dementia in Malaysia in 2005 was 0.063% but projected to increase to 0.126% by 2020.

According to the International World Alzheimer Report 2015, some 46.8mil people are estimated to be living with dementia in 2015 and the number is expected to double every 20 years.

The report added in Asia, about 22.9mil people are currently estimated to be living with dementia, compared with 10.5mil in Europe, 4mil in Africa and 9.4mil in the Americas.

With no known cure, its development can be terrifying for those afflicted with dementia. It becomes a race against time for family members who are searching for ways to maintain their loved one’s functionality for as long as they can.

Watching loved ones struggle to recall everything from past experiences to learned materials can be overwhelming, as a decline in the memory and cognitive function robs the loved one of their ability to manage their daily life.

Caregivers may notice a decline in communication, learning and remembering their friends and family members, which may occur quickly or slowly over time.

With some even forgetting how to swallow, families and relatives are left with the burning question, “Will you still remember me tomorrow?”

Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells, interfering with its ability to communicate. When the brain cells fail to communicate normally, one’s thinking, behaviour and feelings can be affected.

University Malaya Medical Centre Assoc Prof Dr Tan Maw Pin said some of the things one can look for in recognising the signs of the syndrome include forgetfulness.

“The person developing dementia in the early stage would find themselves having difficulties in remembering and retrieving the things they had earlier kept or stored,” said Dr Tan, who works in the geriatric medicine department, a medical subspecialty which focuses on the health of older people.

She said everyone experienced problems finding things from time to time but a sign of a more serious case was if they started to lose their belongings, such as car keys, more regularly when it had not been an issue previously.

If such scenario occurs, Dr Tan said they should get themselves assessed.

“A memory screening test takes only 20 minutes and only costs the consultation,” she said.

A spokesman for LF Asia (M) Sdn Bhd, the official distributor for Dr Willmar Schwabe Pharmaceuticals’ products in Malaysia, said studies have shown that standardised ginkgo biloba extract such as EGb761 is helpful to improve memory performance for those with dementia and help maintain their functionality.

LF Asia is owned by Li & Fung Company, a Hong Kong-based multinational healthcare, consumer goods design, development, sourcing and logistics group. They are also a distributor of ginkgo biloba extract, EGb761.

EGb761 is a unique and patented standardized ginkgo biloba extract that neutralises free radicals and increase blood circulation.

The emergence of such supplements is welcome additions for the treatment of dementia, but caregivers and patients must consult their doctor for a prescription.

While it is not a substitute for synthetic medication for the syndrome, Dr Tan explained that certain medical foods act by stopping further deterioration in the symptoms of dementia and not the actual pathological deterioration in the brain.

She said medical food containing ginkgo biloba extract EGb761 has been known to be the alternative treatment and cost-effective in the long run to help those suffering the illness.

To a certain extent, the usage of gingko biloba extract EGb761has also been shown to help reduce the burden of caregivers looking after these patients.

“If one notices forgetfulness problems with their loved one or themselves, they should go for screening quickly. Don’t ignore the problem,” said Dr Tan.

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