More than 46 million people suffer from dementia all over the world, the World Alzheimer Report revealed, and the number is expected to increase to 131.5 million by 2050. Studies say that most people fear developing the neurodegenerative disorder next to their fear of being diagnosed with cancer.
Dementia is a crippling disorder of the mind. Its effects are universally terrifying for most people. The fact that the disorder robs the person of their own concept of who they are and their ability to interact with the people they love is both overwhelming and frightening.
According to the report released by Alzheimer's Disease International, neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's among others, have become one of the biggest global public health challenges that the world faces. Currently, an estimated 94 percent of people with dementia live in low- and middle-income countries where health care support for the disorder is limited. As a result, they are only being taken care of within the confines of their home.
The disease also accounts to a market value of more than $818 billion dollars, the ADI says, and by 2018, it is estimated to become a trillion-dollar disease. Despite the increase in social awareness towards the disorder, a diagnosis still brings stigma and social isolation, according to the report.
Alexander Halperin, a former dentist and Harvard University professor who was diagnosed with the disorder, decided to be an advocate by spreading awareness, lobbying Congress and debunking stigma towards dementia. His LinkedIn account is connected to nearly 10,000 people including physicians, Alzheimer's patients, and fellow advocates.
"My focus is to help break the thinking that the patient that has Alzheimer's is sitting in a nursing home," Halperin explained.
He said that he became aware of having the disorder when he started to struggle in 2007 with remembering details for a dental case that an attorney would review. He said he would be in a meeting with an attorney, and he would desperately try to cram details of cases into his mind, but the attempt had exhausted him. Halperin sought help afterwards.
He clings to old memories the most now, especially because those are the parts of him that are still easy to grasp. "It is a horrifying, gripping, devastating disease that plays havoc on the family and on the patient," says his wife, Gail Halperin.
Meanwhile, Jamie Tyrone, a registered nurse from San Diego, only accidentally discovered that she carried a gene which increased her chance of developing Alzheimer's to 91 percent. She said that it shifted her life into a darker turn.
"Emotionally, I went into a dark hole. I'm frightened, I'm scared, I'm alone, I'm isolated," she recalled.
Tyrone changed her lifestyle soon after. She began to work with David Clayton, a physician who helps people go through intense exercise and brain stimulation, and manage a regimen of diet. Tyrone also enrolled herself in a study at the Banner Institute that conducts checkups, brain scans and cognitive tests every two years.
ADI and Bupa, a global health care company that funded the World Alzheimer Report, hopes to ensure that dementia becomes a health priority globally. Since there is still no known cure for the disorder, the organizations call on governments to commit into the advocacy of reducing the risks of dementia for future generations. It will not happen overnight, ADI says, but if governments and societies work together, it is possible.
Photo : Steven Pisano | Flickr