Alzheimer’s Disease
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Consumer Conern
Consumer Conern

Wider dissemination of information needed

TREATMENT of mental illness only comparatively and recently became a branch of western medicine.  From the Middle Ages to the middle of the 18th Century, mental illness was regarded as being due to  extraterrestrial forces such as evil spirits and spells.  From about the latter half of the 18th Century, the Age of Reason, doctors and scientists began to see an equation of mental illnesses to physical illness and to search for their origin and cure within the human body.

In the 19th and 20th Centuries, great strides were made in exploring the causes and treatment for mental illnesses with the advancement of such studies as Psychology and Psychiatry and studies on the brain.  Mental ailments are loosely termed ‘Dementia,’ but under the term ‘Dementia’ there are conditions ranging from depression and stress to Alzheimer’s and Schizophrenia.  Alzheimer’s seems to be the most widely spread of mental illnesses.

Though Alzheimer’s could affect persons in their 30s, its onset is far more common in persons from their 60s.  Age is, therefore, a risk factor.  It is caused by degeneration of part of the brain and such degeneration happens over a period of time.
The first symptom is memory loss —  one begins to forget ordinary things such as names of people or streets or buildings which one once knew very well.  With the passing of time, the sufferer may develop language difficulties and ceases to communicate as quickly and as effectively as he/she once did.  He/she may wander about or get lost.  Judgement and reasoning may become seriously impaired.  The sufferer may lose the motivation to act or do anything.

As the disease progresses, the sufferer ceases to reason, cannot read or write, cannot learn anything new and cannot even take his/her medication.  In this condition, patients spend most of their time in bed and cannot live alone.

No cure has so far been discovered for Alzheimer’s and all treatment seems to be experimental and what is effective for one patient may not work for another.  It has been observed that activities which need thinking and reasoning could slow up the progress of the disease.  Such activities could be reading, writing, word games, painting and the creative arts.  Getting involved in hobbies and social activities could assist; so can gardening, but avoiding sharp tools such as cutlasses.

In the home, keep all drugs and poisons out of the way of patients.  Let the home be as familiar as possible and patiently help the sufferer to do simple activities.
There are a few well-known “folk remedies” which have growing numbers of users.  One such is the Indian gooseberry, which one of the scientists at NAREI is researching.  Another is taking a full teaspoon of turmeric (haldi) powder with a dash of ground black pepper every day.

Turmeric is believed to slow down brain deterioration and the black pepper helps in its quicker and more effective absorption.  This use for turmeric dates from Vedic times some 4,000 years ago,  Many Western scientists have come to accept the use of turmeric as a preventative against brain deterioration or as slowing down the progress of Alzheimer’s.

The best care for Alzheimer’s patients is that given by the family.  It is superior to that offered by specialised homes.  In such homes, the patients are among unfamiliar people in unfamiliar places and feel abandoned and isolated and suffer deeply.
The family with which the Alzheimer’s patient lives must educate themselves about the disease and its treatment, so that they could always have in their minds that they are dealing with a very ill person and they also have to remind themselves that they are not dealing with a rational person.  Difficulties and discomfort always arise when they even for a moment feel they are dealing with a rational person.

Once family members become acutely aware that they are dealing with a very ill person who has lost his/her reasoning faculty, they would be patient, tolerant and helpful.  And once this happens, they would have a sense of joy in helping their sick relative and the patient would be happier and more peaceful.

Medical science has not so far discovered any cure for Alzheimer’s, but the medications, exercises and disciplines which are recommended should be used.  Some of the broader cultural patterns and even structures of non-Western societies may be researched as they relate to Alzheimer’s, since methods of preventing the disease may be uncovered.

An example of this could be in the Four Stages of Life which guide many Hindus: The first quarter of one’s life is devoted to education and learning of skills to assist one to earn one’s living. (Bhrmchari).  The second quarter is when one enters the Householder’s Life.  One marries, brings up a family and creates material things of the world which one will enjoy, but which society will eventually inherit. (Gharhastya)   The third Stage of Life is when one moves into social service, helping one’s fellow-man and at the same time developing one’s faith and belief in God. (Vanaprashtya).  In the final Stage of Life, one devotes one’s self wholly to God and prepares for Death. (Sanyasa).  These Stages of Life are not exclusive but merge into each other.

In the West, we tend to regard life as one continuous progression of development from birth to death without any pauses.  We do indeed recognise the changes of aging, but do not recognise the distinct changes which the Eastern Stages of Life adumbrate.  It is at the Third Stage of Life from about 55 to 70 years when we are at most risk of Alzheimer’s.  We are unprepared for this distinct Stage of Life and find it unsettling.

During these crucial Alzheimer’s risk years, one in the Eastern System is engaged in service to family and society and in the intensifying belief and faith in God.  Both types of activities are known to hold off Alzheimer’s.  In the West, we talk about “enjoying our retirement” and sometimes the younger generation talk of sending their older relatives to “comfortable old people’s homes”. Retirement and old people’s homes are never known to hold off Alzheimer’s.

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