As the Covid-19 pandemic is putting many older adults’ social lives on hold, restricting them within the four walls of house, health experts have cautioned that this is leaving them at a greater risk of loneliness which, in turn, has also been found to increase the chances of developing dementia by as much as 20 per cent. Dementia is incurable disease in which memory, thinking, communication and social abilities deteriorate over the period of time.
The doctors also warned that due to the aging population with which we are faced, dementia is an emerging pandemic in India.
“Evidence shows social isolation has many implications for older adults, including depression, generalized anxiety disorders, decreased sleep, and functional impairment. In the long run, if the isolation continues chronically, say more than six months, it may accelerate cardiovascular and brain aging and dementia,” said Dr Prasun Chatterjee, Associate Professor, Department of Geriatric Medicine, AIIMS, Delhi.
However, the families can take this opportunity to revive the age-old connections between the youth and older adults which can have win-win situation for both the generation, said Dr Chatterjee who has also penned a book ‘Health and Wellbeing in Late Life’ which dwells in detail about the old age-related problems including dementia and stroke, cancer to name a few and that how they can be positively tackled through clinical and non-clinical means.
“During normal times, patients affected by dementia are very vulnerable people and are hugely dependent on family or professional caregivers in their everyday life.
“This Covid-19 pandemic worsens their vulnerability directly, because of the virus’ morbidity and mortality and, indirectly, because of the lack of social and healthcare support which they depend upon.
The double shock of dementia and Covid-19 pandemics has raised major concerns for people with dementia but also their caregivers,” a study published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Report too has raised concerns about the growing health risk among adults.
Dr Chaterjee suggests that older adults can be encouraged to use digital platforms which will improve their social interactions through intergenerational experience sharing.
He referred to a study which showed that older adults who provided internet-based tutoring to fifth-grade students became comfortable using computers, had improvements in mood, and had an enhanced quality of life from the interactions.
“It would prevent social isolation in the older adults and the youth would be enriched through social connection and knowledge sharing with older friends,” said Dr Chaterjee who through his NGO Healthy Aging India has been successfully implementing an intergenerational learning model in various states in the country.
However, treatments — including cognitive retraining and medication in the early stages — can help slow the progression of the disorder, but can’t cure it.
The future is gloomy--for older people and their caregivers too- if preventive steps are not taken.
As India's population ages, number of people with dementia and Alzheimer's is set to rise to 7.6 million in 2030, according to the Dementia in India Report 2020 by the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI).
Doctors advice that risk of dementia can be reduced by getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.