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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saviours of the old

An initiative that helps patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's with proper care.

An extremely jovial 60-year-old, Mandakini Kamtekar was a person of cool temperament. Not until one day when her family began noticing extreme behavioural changes in her.
"She became very aggressive, almost to the point of hitting us. She kept forgetting things and would pick up a toothbrush and start brushing her teeth," recalls Jyoti, daughter-in-law of Kamtekar. As the lapses in her memory increased, the family approached Devendra Save, a practising psychiatrist and a core team member of Silver Innings Dementia Support Group who diagnosed Kamtekar as a patient of Alzheimer's, a common form of dementia, a brain disorder that affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities and is most common in old age.

Just a year-old initiative, the Silver Innings Dementia Support Group,a collaboration between Silver Inning Foundation, a NGO for elderly citizens and Alzheimer's and Related Disorder Society of India (ARDSI) has already reached out to 657 families. It isa collaborative initiative meant to assist patients diagnosed with dementia and specifically Alzheimer's. Moreover, on the occasion of World Alzheimer's Day on September 21, it plans to launch a first-of-its-kind geriatric psychological service in the city. As part of the service, clinical psychologists will not only provide free consultation on the phone to seniors but also pay a visit to the home of an Alzheimer's patient and chalk out the future course of treatment in consultation with the family.

The support group started by Sailesh Mishra, founder president, Silver Inning Foundation offers a variety of services to aid patients suffering from Alzheimer's. Mishra, who left a well paying corporate job to help the elderly in the society says, "I think the seniors are the most ignored and neglected lot." Mishra, earlier associated with Dignity Foundation, branched out to form his own NGO and then the dementia support group.

Anu Vijay Kumar, a human resource manger in a reputed firm, was leading a happy family life with her two children and husband, also a senior executive in a firm. However, she was in for a rude shock when she learnt that her husband had fallen prey to Alzheimer's at the age of 52. This was eight years ago. Today, her husband, is confined to a wheelchair. He doesn't recognise Anu and their children; has forgotten the language and is totally dependent on Anu, who continues to juggle between her job and taking care of her husband.

However, for Kumar, help and advice from Silver Inning Foundation helps her provide correct treatment and support to her husband. "I keep consulting them often. I have now decided to get my husband's bed barricaded from all sides to avoid any falls and I will be talking to Mishra about it," says Anu.

The group also spreads awareness about dementia and Alzheimer's. "What you need for Alzheimer's is food for the brain. While abroad there are Alzheimer's products like talking clock, bold font calendars, day reminders etc, here there are no products of this sort. This goes on to show the apathy and lack of awareness about Alzheimer's ," rues Mishra.

Their message has helped people like Kamtekar and her family who have tried to explain to their distant relatives that Mandakini is not "mad" as they think her to be and doesn't need to go to an asylum but just needs love and care.

Since, there is no universal therapy to treat Alzheimer's patients, the techniques to keep the patients brain pro-active varies. Mishra, on receiving a call, personally visits the patient's home along with a psychiatrist and psychologist to understand the problem and offer solutions. But Mishra says that the involvement and understanding of the family is extremely vital. "Alzheimer's only gets worse with time and the patient becomes entirely dependent on the family. Our effort is to just make their time and living a little easier," he says.

By Humaira Ansari


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