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India faces a future struggle with Alzheimer’s disease

India is entirely unprepared for a future in which the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease rises sharply, according to The Alzheimer’s and Related disorders Society of India (ARDSI) it cites  the lack of government policy in place to address the condition.

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Is India prepared for higher numbers of Alzheimer’s patients in the future?

Two decades ago the condition was considered to be rare in India. However, current estimates place the number of patients with Alzheimer’s disease in India at around 4 million. This may be a conservative estimate as countless numbers of people in rural communities may live with the condition without a diagnosis.

The condition demands awareness, attention, treatment and added institutional care centres, writes Dr ME Yeolekar, Professor Internal Medicine, KJ Somaiya Medical College and Hospital.

A government policy focused on managing the disease may be vital in India’s future, says ARDSI. The population of India is aging. Alzheimer’s disease shows such a strong correlation with age that it is considered to be one of the primary risk factors of the condition. India’s population may face vastly increased numbers of’s disease patients in the near future.

“Alzheimer’s carries with it significant economic and social costs. We need to intensify clinical research efforts to look for a cure for Alzheimer’s,” said Chirag Trivedi, President of Indian Society for Clinical Research. The economic impact may extend far further than treatment costs of those suffering with the disease.

The nature of the condition is a gradual degeneration, for some this may occur more rapidly. With the degeneration of brain function comes a reduction in a person’s capabilities. This may involve memory loss or hindrances when performing previously simple tasks. In the more advanced stages of the disease, a patient may be bedridden and require round-the-clock care.

Unless government policy is put in place to cover care costs of those with the disease, many Indians may find themselves forced to leave their jobs in order to care for sick family members. The alternative is for them to pay for private care which may be financially impossible for some families; it may drive others  into poverty.

Symptom management is the only current treatment method. Degeneration caused by the disease is irreversible as neurons die off in the brain. Risk factors are important in addressing the disease, with relevant lifestyle changes able to significantly cut risk. Healthy diet as well as exercise and consistent mental challenges such as sudoku, language learning and crosswords help to reduce the risk of developing the disease.

India may find its own  problems associated with caring for those with the disease. “Most of our elderly people live in areas which are hard to reach, making access to care and monitoring extremely complicated,” says Trivedi.

This may make affordable care for many elderly people with the condition all but inaccessible. This in turn would put further strain on the economics of rural towns and villages. As more and more people turn from work to care for their elderly relatives, poverty levels may become dangerously high.

More and more NGO’s — such as the Agewell Foundation — are contacting the government requesting funds be put in place to address the problem. Alzheimer’s disease is a problem that will become far worse on a global scale as populations the world over see higher numbers of elderly people. However, if the issue is not formally addressed in India, its impact could be significant, both in terms of healthcare and the economy.


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