As a part of our October issue's mental health feature, we briefly delved into a few mental health disorders that has been plaguing Malaysians but often is dismissed. In the first part of the feature, we took a general view over mental health as a whole and why it usually goes undiagnosed by many. Following up to that, we looked at anxiety, depression, autism and now we end our final part of the feature with Alzheimer's to briefly get behind the ailment and what it's all about.
The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive loss of brain nerve cells which causes a decline in the person’s mental functions. The common misconception comes from it being a part of normal aging but in truth, it is not. In fact, such notions can be quite damaging to the overall treatment of the person suffering from Alzheimer’s.
And for Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj, the deputy president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA), in next decade or so, Malaysia will likely hit a major glut in with our aging population.
“According to a UN projection, Malaysia is set to become an aged country by 2030.We are going to have a significant number of the people of the country to be from the geriatric age group. Are we prepared for this? The mental health impact of people suffering on Alzheimer’s on their family and friends are tremendous because of the nature of the illness itself that makes it difficult for family members to cope due to the irritability and accusatory remarks as well as paranoia which causes disruptions and broken relationships in family.”
At present, 18 million people worldwide have the disease and by 2020, it is estimated to be 34 million. Estimates in Malaysia sits at about 50,000 people but it is very likely that many out there are still undiagnosed.
While the general understand of what Alzheimer does to a person is there, many tend to underestimate the implications it has.
“Even though we may understand the illness, we would still be affected. At the end of the day, we’re human beings with a fragile ego and will still be hurt by words,” says Dr Andrew.
To tackle this, he proposes that all stakeholders must think on how to optimise the wisdom that has been accumulated by geriatric group and not just pension them off.
“We have to seriously rethink about our whole policy on retirement. Because when you retire early in life, the financial demands and the fact that we live longer now will result in an unproductive life that could lead to depressive symptoms such as post retirement blues.”
Apart from the deterioration of the mind due to inactivity, there’s a risk of physical problems that comes with the geriatric group not doing anything.
“We have to promote good physical health among the geriatric group to prevent them from falling into the trap of developing a mental illness as a result of neglecting their physical health.”
But despite efforts to mitigate and avoid such an ailment, when someone is afflicted, their lives and the lives of those around them profoundly changes.
However, they’re not left without help. Medication, counselling and various of other methods are still being promoted and improved to help in the care of those suffering from Alzheimer’s.
If you ever need help or someone to talk to, here are some people that would be happy to listen:
(Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia 03-79562008, Befrienders 03-79568144 / 03-79568145, Lifeline Association of Malaysia 03-42657995, Malaysian Mental Health Association 03-77825499, National Urgent Response 03-22662222)
First published in Esquire Malaysia, October 2016.