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Oct 3, 2013

Healthy Living looks at a condition that affects elderly citizens

This week is being celebrated as Seniors Week. October 1st was celebrated as International Day for Older Persons. October tenth is World Mental Health Day. This year’s both themes have collided as the Mental Health Association and National Aging Council team up bring the focus on Alzheimer’s – a mental condition affecting millions of elderly persons worldwide. Tonight on Healthy Living we visit our neighbor, the Mercy Clinic, an institution that works exclusively with persons sixty years and older to find out just to what extent Alzheimer’s is a problem in Belize.

 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

The Mercy Clinic, is one of two service providers in the Mercy Center, they offer out-patient services and medical care to persons sixty years or older. Doctor Ajay Hotchandani is the head physician at the clinic; the most common conditions that he sees are diabetes, hypertension and arthritis but there is a growing concern about the seniors exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Ajay Hotchandani

Dr. Ajay Hotchandani, Head Physician, Mercy Clinic – NHI

“Alzheimer’s is one form a term known as dementia, which is a loss of the brain function when a person is still alive and alert. The difference between normal aging and memory loss is that we are looking at in terms of dementia is that somebody who you knew personally their entire life and they cannot remember their name, somebody they met six months ago and they cannot remember their names. That’s regular aging memory loss.”

 

This inability to remember new memories is very often the first sign of Alzheimer’s. The disease is one in which the brain begins to shut down. The first to be affected is the ability to retain new information. Family members are usually the first to notice this.

 

Dr. Ajay Hotchandani

“Starts off with something as simple as this – a good history. If the family member or caretaker comes in and says: Doc, my mother keeps on repeating herself. She told me a story yesterday and then she told me again. Another common thins – which a lot of people will identify with – the accusation of theft. This is almost a hallmark sign for a rough diagnosis. Someone comes in and says my mother or father and says somebody stole money but there was nothing there. You’ll have a conversation with them and fifteen minutes later they’ll ask you the same question. Or time, you just tell them and they ask again. But ask them what happened in 1957 and they will tell you where they were, who they were with, what they were wearing, what they ate and what temperature it was if they can remember. For most it starts with short term memory loss then there is a struggle to finding words; you’ll ask them a simple question that they would have been able to answer easily, and all of a sudden they can’t remember words like food, water; you ask them if they want to watch TV and “yes” becomes difficult.”

 

Caretakers must learn to accept that it is almost impossible to convince a loved one with Alzheimer’s that those hallucinations are not real. The exact cause of the disease is not known and there is no cure. While scientist have develop medication that are claimed to slow down the progression of the disease; there is nothing proven to reverse its process. Eventually, Alzheimer’s will affect the brain function that regulates involuntary functions.

 

Dr. Ajay Hotchandani

“The disease ends up affecting the part of the brain that controls motor function and then involuntary function. When you think about we, don’t have to actively think about making our heart beat or breathing, the heart can’t regulate itself the breathing begins to shut down.”

 

There are many other life threatening complications associated with Alzheimer’s: bed sores, loss of appetite, lowered immune system which leads to increases risk of infection.  It is estimated that from diagnosis to death, it may take about 15 years; although there is no research done in Belize to ascertain our reality. While persons with Alzheimer’s require full time care and plenty of patience; another vulnerable group is the caretakers. Dr. Hotchandani explains.

 

Dr. Ajay Hotchandani

“The caretakers have a very daunting task ahead of them, because as it progresses, it takes a toll, they are in a situation, where they are verbally abused, physically attacked, treat an elderly loved one like a child…invest financially in finding a caretaker. We are looking at setting up an Alzheimer’s association in Belize and that is more for the caretakers to get together…pitch to the government…a simple thing that would help is a respite…that’s one of the movements.”

 

Another initiative of the association is working in communities, to inform and identify neighbors with Alzheimer’s; this is especially important for those who run away or leave their homes and wander.

 

Dr. Ajay Hotchandani

“It will take the concerted effort of…education is key…refuse to accept it…they are not aware of.”

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