Is India heading towards an epidemic of dementia?


Dementia is a syndrome that affects the elderly in the majority of cases. It’s a neurological condition that affects a person’s memory, thinking, reasoning, and judgment. As it tends to worse over time, there are medications and alternative solutions that can help slow down the decline and alleviate symptoms like behavioural changes.

There are various types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s disease dementia, mixed dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and normal pressure hydrocephalus1.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, which is characterized by memory loss, difficulty planning, and performing daily tasks. These symptoms frequently result in a confused patient, especially when it comes to their surroundings, such as not knowing where they are or recognizing the people around them. This is also connected to speaking and writing problems. They have a habit of losing things and forgetting where they placed them. They experience mood swings and their personalities may even change.

Dementia cases are seen more in women than men and are doubling every five years. According to a research study, dementia cases the world over will triple by the year 2050. As per the findings in India, the possibility of dementia cases is expected to go up by 197% totalling cases around 11422692. 2 The reason for this being, is the rise in risk factors of individuals today.

According to the study, there are certain risk factors that are responsible for this expected growth in cases. Interestingly, these risk factors can be controlled up to 40 percent. The following are the risk factors responsible for dementia. This is because loneliness is associated with a poorer executive function such as decision making, planning, cognitive flexibility and control of attention.

Low education – Having low education poses a major risk as not being aware of the symptoms leads to ignorance about the syndrome which further results in non-treatment.

Hypertension – Hypertension is a strong risk factor for vascular dementia. 3 It can be corrected by not leading a sedentary lifestyle and avoiding fatty and salty foods.

Midlife obesity – Studies have established a link between midlife obesity and dementia. It is also believed that the risk factor depends on where the fat is stored in the body. Dementia risk is said to be associated with belly fat.

Depression – As per studies there is a connection between dementia and depression. Early-onset of depression such as childhood or teenage depression or late-onset, occurring in a person above 60 years old or older will likely lead to dementia later in life.4

Physical inactivity – Although it is not certain, the state of physical inactivity has been linked to dementia. For according to a study, a subgroup of physically inactive individuals was prone to dementia.5

Social isolation – In a study published in the American Journal of Neurology, Neurology, lonely Americans younger than 80 were more prone to dementia than expected6.

Head injury – Head injury is said to be associated with increased risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in most epidemiological studies.

Air pollution – According to a study led by researchers from the UW Department of Environmental & occupational health sciences exposure to higher levels of fine particulate air pollution over a 10-year period had a greater risk of developing dementia.

Smoking and alcohol use – According to studies, smoking significantly increases the risk of mental decline and dementia. It is believed that smokers carry an increased risk of dementia because of atherosclerosis and other types of vascular disease. Similarly, studies have indicated that drinking large amounts of alcohol increases the risk of dementia. Here, studies have also suggested that moderate drinkers have a lower risk of dementia than heavier drinkers or people who do not drink alcohol at all.

Cholesterol – The bad form of cholesterol such as high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) increases the risk factor for developing vascular dementia and at times Alzheimer’s.

Diabetes – The presence of diabetes is a risk factor for both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Additionally, it contributes to the risk factor for developing atherosclerosis and stroke, both of which align with vascular dementia.

All the above risk factors can be corrected to cut down the growth of dementia cases in the future.

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