Monday, October 10, 2011

Help needed for Jamaicans with Alzheimer's disease

Professor Denise Eldemire Shearer - called for an end to the discrimination against those living with Alzheimer's disease
BY NADINE WILSON Observer staff reporter
Monday, October 10, 2011
WITH an estimated 40,000 Jamaicans living with Alzheimer's disease, local experts are hoping that increased focus will be placed on providing more resources for the caregivers of those living with the disease.
According to the president of the Alzheimer's Disease Outreach Programme and the Alliance on Ageing, Dr Albert Chen, while the number of persons living with the disease is increasing, limited focus on diagnosis and treatment has resulted in many Alzheimer's patients living in isolation.
"These people live all over Jamaica, we visit them in the hills of St Catherine and in the valleys all over," said Dr Chen, who is also a consultant clinical gerontologist.
"Many of them we don't see, we don't hear from them, but they are on beds all over, suffering, no help at all, missing in action. We don't even see them in our health centres because it is hard to get there; and delivering care to persons with dementia in a busy health centre, a health clinic or outpatient department is not going to cut it," he said.
After much lobbying and advocacy, Alzheimer's Disease International, of which Jamaica is a part, was finally able to get the World Health Organisation to list Alzheimer's as a non-communicable disease (NCD) on September 9 of this year. This means that the disease will be given the same level of priority as other NCDs such as cancer, diabetes and lung disease.
President of Alzheimer's Jamaica (AJ), attorney-at-law Dundeen Ferguson, is hoping that the recent ruling will push governments to help to raise awareness and implement policies that would allow Alzheimer's patients to get easier access to medication.
"Every call that I get on the phone it is about medication and how families cannot afford it," said Ferguson, who founded AJ during her struggle to get help for her parents when they were living with Alzheimer's. The group provides counselling and referrals for those affected by the disease.
Ferguson expressed concern that some Alzheimer's patients are being stigmatised because of ignorance of the disease, and implored family members to be more understanding, despite the challenges in caring for someone with Alzheimer's.
"You will learn that this disease is something that they are living with, and they themselves are conscious of it and we need to recognise that in the early stages, some of them are very much aware that changes are happening and they just don't understand what it is," she said.
Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks, with sufferers often having to rely heavily on caregivers.
Just over a week ago, the Alliance on Ageing hosted a Worlds Alzheimer's Day 2011 public lecture which saw scores of people packing the Guardian Life Auditorium on Trafalgar Road in New Kingston to learn more about the disease.
The lecture was delivered by Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer, who took issue with the fact that many people continue to view Alzheimer's as a natural part of aging.
Professor Eldemire-Shearer said that measures such as controlling the blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, as well as stimulating the brain by doing puzzles and watching television, could go a long way in slowing down the progression of the disease. She too called for an end to the discrimination against those living with Alzheimer's.
"We cannot hide our demented family members, our demented patients, we need to take them out," she said before adding, "Yes, they are going to walk up and down the place, they are going to make some noise, but so what, it needs to be accepted."
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