ADVOCATE FOR AWARENESS

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Published on November 13, 2017 with No Comments

Alzheimer’s Disease International has the facts which indicate dementia will be the ‘most serious health crisis of the 21st century’. DY Suharya, Regional Director Asia Pacific Regional Office, speaks on why the public needs to be educated and how a dementia national plan can benefit a country.

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What are the normal characteristics of cognitive ageing?
The basic cognitive functions mostly affected by age are attention and memory; perception also shows significant age related declines attributable mainly to declining sensory capacities. Higher level cognitive functions such as language processing and decision making can also be affected by age.

How can one distinguish between normal ageing and early onset dementia?
Normal Ageing:
• Not being able to remember details of a conversation or event that took place a year ago
• Not being able to remember the name of an acquaintance
• Forgetting things and events occasionally
• Occasionally have difficulty finding words
• You are worried about your memory, but your relatives are not

Early Onset Dementia:
• Not being able to recall details of recent events or conversations
• Not recognising or knowing the names of family members
• Forgetting things or events more frequently
• Frequent pauses and substitutions when finding words
• Your relatives are worried about your memory, but you are not aware of any problems

Why is it so important that dementia is diagnosed early?
“Early diagnosis means we can live well longer” is one of the taglines in the “Remember Me” World Alzheimer’s Month campaign this year. Receiving it early will enable people to:
• Gain access to information, support and information
• Maximise everyone’s quality of life
• Benefit from treatments
• Plan for the future
• Explain to family, friends, colleagues what has changed and be prepared in the journey of caring ahead
• Start to do some work related to insurance, legal and asset documents, etc
• Participate in an early stage support group for coping strategies.

Your late mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s so you had first-hand experience of the challenges. Your father was her main caregiver. What was the most challenging of that role for him and your family?
My father was 80 years old when my mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2009. They have been together for more than 50 years in marriage and the most challenging thing for my dad back then actually occurred before mom was diagnosed (mom had showed symptoms of dementia since 20 years ago/around the 90s but no one noticed). My siblings and myself including dad with the support of a domestic worker were committed to provide the highest quality of care as possible for mom and this journey had actually strengthened our family bond since all members in the family had their own roles in providing care.

What advice can you give to the caregiver, especially if it’s a family member, when faced with the challenges of caring for a person with dementia?
• Seek support at the nearest Alzheimer’s association in their neighborhood
• Join a support group
• Adapt with change
• Sign up for a dementia care skills training session
• Never forget their own health and well-being (manage time)
• Plan respite care.

In August, Alzheimer’s Disease International’s Asia Pacific Regional Office (ADI-APRO) and Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM) successfully conducted a Dementia Care Skills Course for Train-The-Trainer Programme with MOH and MCYS officers supported by a master trainer from Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA) Singapore and a co-trainer
from Brunei. It was the first time ever such a training was done in Brunei Darussalam. What are your thoughts on it and where does Brunei go from here?

Many countries have a high reliance on foreign expert trainers and are inconsistent in the quality of training materials and approach for dementia care. ADFM and ADI supported Brunei’s initiative in conducting the training for caregivers to be better equipped to face the unique challenges of dementia. Brunei has kickstarted a successful training in August and ADI Asia Pacific and ADFM will continue to nurture and support the trainers in the long run and support advocacy to high level so eventually Brunei will have a Dementia National Plan and will be able to contribute to the improvement of quality of life for people with dementia and caregivers in Brunei.

How can a family member or an individual try to pick up features of who might be having symptoms of dementia in the earliest point?
See 10 warning signs of dementia (which can be found in the above images).

Dementia is an irreversible disease. There is no prevention and there is no cure. But are we seeing progress made by scientists in this area?
Unfortunately, no progress yet for cure, which brings a big responsibility for us to advocate, educate, promote risk reduction and continuously train as many as we can in providing quality care to persons with dementia.

As the founder of Alzheimer’s Indonesia and now the Regional Director of Asia Pacific region, ADI, how did you come to take up these role(s)? And what does the future holds for Asia?
I received the trust to be the regional director of ADI Asia pacific since November 2016 after three years of leading Alzheimer’s Indonesia to be the role model for awareness raising campaign in Asia. Out of almost 50 million people with dementia globally, half of them are in Asia (22.9 million) and there are excellent potentials in Asia especially in relation to care, advocacy and research.

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