September is World Alzheimer's Month, an international campaign organized to challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia and to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. This year marks the 6th Global World Alzheimer’s Month and the theme for 2017 is “Remember Me”, highlighting the importance of early detection and diagnosis of dementia.
Dementia is the general term used to describe a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and specifically affects the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language.
Dr. Hanadi Al Hamad, Chairperson of Geriatrics and the Long Term Care Department at HMC, explained the significance of recognizing World Alzheimer’s Month: “During September each year, we join the international community in the global effort to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia. As our population increases and we have older people living longer, we have more incidences of Alzheimer’s. Engaging with communities is an important way to help people understand the symptoms and what support and treatment options are available.”
Reiterating that the focus of this year’s theme is early diagnosis of dementia, she added: “In our Memory Clinics at Rumailah Hospital we regularly see patients referred for evaluation because of memory problems, but a real concern is that often we see families bringing their loved ones at a later stage, once symptoms have progressed significantly.”
There is no single test to determine if someone has dementia and symptoms can vary greatly. Generally, at least two of the core mental functions (memory, communication and language, ability to focus, reasoning and judgment and visual perception), must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia.
Dr. Al Hamad explained: “Elderly people with dementia often have multiple medical comorbidities (meaning they have one or more additional diseases or disorders); having a diagnosis early ensures optimum care plans are put in place for the management of their physical health conditions.”
“This year, as part of World Alzheimer’s Month, the Department of Geriatrics, in association with Qatar Foundation for Elderly Care (Ehsan), Primary Healthcare Corporation (PHCC) and the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), have planned a series of education events to raise awareness about the need for early detection. We are organizing different sessions for the general public in community and healthcare settings, as well as targeted training for healthcare professionals,” added Dr. Al Hamad.
Dr. Maryam Al Obaidli, a Consultant Geriatrician at HMC, is involved in the planning for the awareness activities and says it is important to help patients and their families understand their symptoms, adding that knowledge helps to minimize stigma.
“As dementia symptoms progress, patients can have behavioral and psychological symptoms associated with the condition. This can add to patients’ distress and to significant caregiver burden. Early diagnosis will help patients and their family access help more promptly,” says Dr. Mani Chandran, a Consultant Geriatric Psychiatrist at HMC.
Dr. Al Hamad added that planned awareness activities are supported by the Ministry of Public Health and demonstrate Qatar’s commitment to improving the care of patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Qatar has been designated as a World Health Organization (WHO) Global Dementia Observatory (GDO) site. The GDO is a web-based data and knowledge exchange platform of key dementia information. It supports evidence-based service planning and the strengthening of policies and social care systems.