Dementia is painful, better mind it now

Illnesses spare almost none. But the rapid increase in the number of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and related disorders should be an urgent cause of concern. At present, an estimated 1.6 million people in India are suffering from the disease. Sadly, the awareness and understanding about it is very low. The worst part is that there is no sure-shot cure for such kind of illnesses.

Legendary Urdu poet Bashir Badr and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — both popular and intelligent personalities of their respective fields at one point of time — are glaring example of how people go into oblivion when such diseases come calling. While Bashir Badr, whose memory is fading away very fast, is living in solitude in Bhopal these days, Vajpayee — after suffering a stroke in 2009 that weakened his cognitive abilities — too is living a secluded life.

We all find, on regular basis, many dementia patients around us — in our localities, relations and among friends. Their medical conditions frighten us. More so because we had seen them living normal lives until recently. Now they are not being able to recognise their children or recollect their own writings as in the case of Bashir Badr.

It also scares us because dementia turns its patients into mindless individuals. Mindless, selfless, unreasonable creatures, somehow still looking like human beings. We see a metaphysical incompatibility in them, and it is deeply unsettling. For all practical purposes, they seem like headless bodies, up and shambling around. And the saddest thing is that you can’t help them in any way to improve their condition.

Each dementia story comes across as an individual tragedy. We witness it in our neighbourhood. Some time we read about it or watch it or hear about it. Initially, one starts fearing that something similar may happen to him or her. But after few moments, we shrug such thoughts off our head, thinking that this may never happen to us. Dementia, in literal terms, is unimaginable. It’s not easy to put ourselves in the place of the demented. How can one wrap his or her mind around what it must be like to lose your brain. We, the storytelling animals, invent confident memories of our future. This is the reason why we don’t care or take precautionary measures to slow down ageing, reduce the chances of major illnesses or get ready to fight the deadly diseases before they actually hit us.

No doubt, Alzheimer’s and dementia are deadly diseases. Scientists are yet to confirm a single theory that proves where this medical condition comes from, or why. The disease seems to have sprung itself from deep within the human architecture, a curse written over the door to our last, hitherto unexplored chamber. Some experts suggest that the disease remains in every brain, lying in wait for activation.

About five million people are expected to suffer from Alzheimer’s across the country by 2050. But nothing tangible has been done to deal with it at individual, societal, medical or governmental level. Like millions other patients, dementia-hit Bashir Badr is now in a condition where he finds it very hard to speak even a word. So are we when we think of such diseases and the inaction to do away with them.