Qn. “I recently witnessed a close relative suffer heavily with the effects of dementia. How can one escape this condition? I am horrified”
One of the challenges of increased life expectancy is the reality that more and more (older) people will develop dementia. After the age of 65 years, dementia increases exponentially, and the rate doubles every five years. By 90, it is estimated that close to 40 per cent of the people in the age group will have a form of dementia.
So, what on the face of it is a good thing, is complicated on the other side of the coin by the kind of problem that you now wish us to discuss.
It goes without saying that the human body consists of many parts and organs. The brain is one such organ, and by the nature of things, is prone to ‘age’ just like the heart, kidneys, hip and knee joints among others.
Looking around you, it must be obvious that the older a population becomes, the more walking sticks there are.
A well know surgeon was asked to speak at his friend’s 50th birthday party and in a light hearted moment came very close to the truth. His view was that after 50, if one woke up in the morning without pain or aches somewhere in his body, it is most likely because he is dead! The doctor went on to explain a truth well known and recorded in the Holy Bible.
The life expectancy for man is three score and ten, meaning seventy years. Towards this magical age and beyond, the human body is designed to start the slow (and steady) process of decay.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, each organ decays at a different rate.
At a recent gathering of men and women in their eighties, an interesting argument arose. Two of the men argued that age and aging is at its worst when it starts in the knees. Both men had played golf all their adult lives, and were now reduced to spectators. Both walked using a frame and were recovering from knee replacement.
Another group blamed the hip joint. In their view, real age can be detected from the damage that afflicts the hip joint. Their evidence was similar and consisted of repeated surgery to their hip joints.
A man sat in a corner, unable to speak clearly because of breathlessness. He was coughing and blamed lungs as the worst organ to have any disease.
He had recently moved to Kilifi where the low altitude helped him breath, because of the higher concentration. He was in Nairobi for the wedding of a grandchild, and had to use extra oxygen to get about. The cylinder of oxygen next to him was given as the evidence.
A lady said she had been subjected to two heart operations after heart attacks in her late seventies. The scars in her chest were the evidence that the heart in the most visible sign of damage of the body with age.
As the day moved on, the conversation moved on to two people who had been invited to the event, and who, like your relative had not been able to come.
The first was a man who had, in his late sixties developed dementia. At first it was just small things that he forgot like misplacing keys.
Later, the memory loss became more profound and he could no longer recognise his grandchildren. When he no longer recognised his wife of 50 years, she cried.
Now he was in bed with 24 hour nursing care. He had drank heavily all his life and doctors thought part of the reason for the dementia was because of the abuse of alcohol. Untreated high blood pressure, HIV Aids and many other conditions can also lead to this type of dementia.
A woman who had not touched alcohol all her life, who did not have any visible medical condition was also said to have suffered from dementia from her late sixties. Hers was diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease, a very common form of dementia which is the subject of intense research because it affects millions of people, just like your relative. No effective treatment has been found.
A healthy, active lifestyle can help delay the onset of some forms of dementia.