Dementia is on the rise. The disease, which is believed to be partly attributed to the lifestyles, has claimed about 5 crore (50Mn) people worldwide. In the next ten years, it could touch 8.2 crore (82Mn) and by 2050, the number can be 15 Crore (150Mn). More worrisome is the fact that the prevalence is found higher among the middle income countries – where facilities to population ratio is unfavourably inclined.
Lower mortality and fertility trends across the World adds complexity to this trend. In the developed countries, the average age has crossed 80 – which was below 60 half a century ago. And by general assumption, the signs of dementia can appear any time after sixty, though earlier stages are also prone.
What is broadly termed as dementia is a degenerative disease that has several complications before death claims the victim. Alzheimer’s is just one among them. What might just begin as mild memory loss or cognitive functioning could deteriorate further where the activities of daily living (ADL) becomes impossible without external care and help. Cases of violence too are not uncommon.
Call it naiveté or insensitivity, there have been efforts to oversimplify conditions like dementia. There is not a grain of exaggeration, when it is stated that there have been discussions about how artificial intelligence and machine learning can be introduced to deal with dementia. Right from Watson, machine learning and AI have brought about revolutionary changes in medical science. Yet, ageing and its resultant functionality decline on the humans continue to demand intensive and round-the-clock personal care and support.
Unfortunately, this is the problem also. Carers have to be trained and attached with patients. Carers have to have higher levels of skills coupled with kindness and empathy. Such professionals – though not very high in the skills pecking order – must get greater dignity and better pay that what it is today. Thus, it no longer is a medical problem, but an economic problem also. The prolonged care and support dementia patients need is a financial drain on the family.
Therefore, it is not a day early for governments and legislators to come forward with solutions to tackle forgetfulness. Japan, has LTCI a compulsory contribution plan for her citizens who cross the age of 40. LTCI is a co-payment plan in which the citizen contributor and the State raise a corpus towards funding the elderly stage needs. At present, this appears to be the most practical method to tackle longevity and its ills. The flip side, though, is that part-financing offered by the State has to come the tax pool. How many nations can plan a geriatric fund – especially when the world is ravaged by a pandemic- is a big question.
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