MALAYSIA is fast becoming an aged nation as people are having longer life spans compared to the last century that witnessed two world wars.
With the added advancements in medicine in the 21st century and drop in birth rates, there are now more older people.
This in turn will increase the dependency ratio, said geriatrician Dr Low Chung Min.
“This means there will be a strain on productive (younger) people who have to care for those who cannot take care of themselves.
“As we age, we will experience frailty and our basic bodily functions will deteriorate.
“The condition is compounded by accelerated ageing factors such as chronic diseases, smoking and lack of sleep.
“Our ‘spare parts’ will deteriorate too as time goes by, ” he said during Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia’s talk on understanding and preventing dementia.
It was organised by the Women’s Centre (PWB), Kampung Tunku assemblyman Lim Yi Wei’s office and Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) Zone 20 councillor Ong Yew Thai at the MBPJ hall in SS3.
World Health Organisation (WHO) said that by 2050, the world’s population aged 60 years and above was expected to total two billion, up from 900 million in 2015.
Today, 125 million people are aged 80 years or older.
By 2050, there will be almost 120 million in that age group living in China alone, with 434 million elsewhere in the world.
WHO also stated that by that time, 80% of all older people would live in low and middle-income countries.
Dr Low enlightened the attendees on geriatric giants, a term coined by Professor Bernard Issacs from the UK to describe impairments that appear in older people, comprising immobility, incontinence, instability and intellectual impairment, which increased the risk of dementia.
Dementia is a progressive loss of cognitive ability and functional decline.
“People just think it is ‘normal’ (to be forgetful or immobile as we age), but it is not.
“There is one new case of dementia every three seconds across the world, ” said Dr Low.
He said Alzheimer’s was the common cause of dementia affecting 60% of people, followed by vascular dementia often caused by strokes, and Lewy Body dementia (a disease associated with abnormal deposits of protein in the brain).
“However, no two elderly people are the same or experience the same dementia symptoms. It depends on which functions are affected the most, ” he explained.
Dementia affects a person’s intellectual functions such as memory, insight, ability to reason, language skills, ability to process information as well as orientation and spatial awareness, he said.
While there was no blood test to diagnose dementia and no miracle drug to cure it, he said prevention and management of the disease was key to ensuring good quality of life.
“Exercise, no matter what age you are, because it is never too late to start.
“This will improve your cardiovascular health.
“Eating good unprocessed food helps with improving brain function too.
“Stop smoking and get enough sleep.
“Engage in cognitive activities such as reading, singing and learning new songs or languages or playing chess, ” said Dr Low, reminding everyone to do something they liked.
Controlling comorbidity such as diabetes and high blood pressure was also extremely important to prevent dementia, he highlighted.
Depression, he said, would often happen as one aged, so he advised people to find new things to do and not depend on other people to have a fulfilling life.
“Our mood affects our brain function, and so does stress.
“Engage in volunteer work or social activities, and try to maintain a positive and joyful attitude.
“More importantly, get as much education as you can, because people with lower education levels have a higher risk of getting dementia, ” he added.