When 36-year-old Latha could not any more take the embarrassment of daily episodes of forgetfulness — recalling where she kept her money or forgot to pick up children from school — she finally decided to visit a good neurologist. Blamed by her family for being irritable and short tempered at times, she was later diagnosed with early signs of dementia — a chronic syndrome characterised by a slow decline in memory, personality and overall functioning of an individual and on the rise among young Indians.
“There is a definitive surge in the number of young Indians diagnosed with dementia at an early age. Depression is setting at a young age in Indians which results in less interest in work and disturbance in the food and sleep patterns leading to memory decline,” said Dr Mohinish Bhatjiwale, director (neurosurgery and neurosciences) at Nanavati Super Specialty Hospital in Mumbai. Dr Atul Prasad, director and senior consultant (neurology) at BLK Super Specialty Hospital in New Delhi, agreed: “Yes there is a surge in young patients –both men and women with memory-related problems.”
Latha, who often complained about fatigue, poor memory and feeling low, was prescribed a small mood stabiliser dose by Dr Prasad along with some lifestyle changes. Within weeks, her mood swings improved and in a span of six months, there were no further complaints of memory disturbances. According to Dr Sunil Mittal, director at Cosmos Institute of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences (CIMBS), in New Delhi, many factors contribute towards dementia, some being genetic, others environmental.
“While we have little control over our genetic predisposition, what we certainly can do is to make the best of what we have in our hands,” Mittal said. A recent US study found that women who reported problems with their memory were 70% more likely to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or dementia decades later. Normal memory problems include taking several minutes to recall where the car is parked, forgetting to call a friend back, putting things down and being unable to find them soon after or forgetting the name of someone you have just met. “Stress, grief and lack of sleep can also affect memory, as can trying to do too many things at once,” said the authors in the journal Neurology.
Dementia, however, is not a specific disease. It is an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80% of such cases.
If you have symptoms like finding multi-tasking increasingly difficult, problems negotiating familiar places, such as you regularly can’t find your vehicle in the car park, forgetting the names of close relatives and friends or problem in recognising faces, colours, shapes and the like, it needs to be attended. “It is important to detect early signs of mild cognitive impairment which can be a red flag for onset of dementia. Once detected, to prevent progression of dementia is also important,” Mittal noted.
Keeping the mind active with attention enhancing tasks and cognitive tasks goes a long way in preventing dementia. Leading a healthy lifestyle with balanced diet, moderate exercise and healthy coping with stress can go a long way in preventing dementia. “Certain other medical conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke can also be risk factors for dementia,” Mittal stressed, adding: “Therefore, it is extremely important to keep them under check with regular follow-up and proper treatment.”
“After all, a healthy mind and healthy body go hand-in-hand,” he said. “Children are affected more owing to parental conflict at home and emotional disturbance which renders them emotionally dry. It is extremely important to have a mix of positive environment, emotions and lifestyle to develop a strong and long-lasting memory,” Bhatjiwale suggested.
Can singing improve memory in youngsters already diagnosed with early stages of dementia? “Participating in musical activities can help individuals with dementia boost their self esteem and prevent social isolation. Musical tasks can be a healthy exercise for the mind while being a pleasant and enjoyable experience at the same time,” explained Dr Shobhana Mittal, a consultant psychiatrist at CIMBS.
The mind is like your body and it is up to you how much you make it work. “Playing Sudoku, Bridge and other such mind-related games helps sharpen your mind and memory,” advised Dr Rajshekhar Reddi, a leading neurologist from Max Hospitals. Dementia can be avoided by having a positive attitude towards life, living in a natural environment with less pollution and more exposure to oxygen.
“A well-balanced lifestyle with regular practice of yoga and proper hydration can also go a long way in avoiding dementia. Happier people have a better memory, after all,” Bhatjiwale concluded.