Who Are You?
Dementia: The Brain Killer.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Just a month ago dad / mom was alright, but now replies in a word or two, appears disinterested in anything. He / she was very lively and active earlier, we are surprised that now they just sit without doing anything, usually staring out of the window, and have to be reminded for everything – food, bath and even who we are’. These words alert every doctor about dementia- a disease that is extremely scary, because the brain is slowly dying. The person suffering with this illness, if not attended in time, can deteriorate permanently and fast, forgetting even oneself, without knowing that this is happening.
What if your own brain forgets you? What if you start to complete fail to recognise your own family, children, friends, not only their names but even their faces, how much they mean to you? Worse, what if in fact you start thinking that they are after your life? Impossible, you think? Welcome to dementia, a devastating disease of the brain that shatters many of our conceptions about ourselves and the world around.
Human brain does a lot more than thinking, speaking, memorising and walking. Born nearly empty, with only basic animal instincts, it then starts filling the memory cells with whatever information is fed to it- name, caste, religion, country, culture, food habits, and also the preaching of dying for one’s own religion or country. While acquiring different skills, it starts comparing self with others, instils the cultural concepts of loving or hating others, discriminating, superiority, and even the wish for equality found in some evolved cultures. Whatever we learn and the emotional make up of our minds, is a stored data in our brain.
Add the bittersweet experiences, the eternal exposure to a mostly self-centred world and our insights, all these make up the personality of each individual, even the ego of being that person, and the addiction of thinking ‘me first’ – all of it is in fact ‘stored data’ in the cells of the brain. There’s also information necessary for communication and social interaction: from days of the week to awareness of day and night, where we are, people and environments around us and so much more.
What happens when these brain cells start dying, degenerating? All this starts fading, and the brain starts having large gaps in these storages about everything, including self. This disease starts slowly, and unless someone is having daily meaningful conversation with the patient on a daily basis, it is missed for many initial months, because the regular, hi-hullo type of conversation is preserved till late. Even the most brilliant minds start making notes and reminders, often forgetting where they kept those. They appear withdrawn, lost in thought, and often have difficulty remembering names, relationships and directions- like not knowing where the washroom is. Some of the most disciplined and cultured may also start using vulgar abuses, have spells of rage, and may accuse their beloved spouse / children of having affairs, intentions of harm and stealing. Some take off clothes in public, misbehave, leave home and get lost outside. All this because the stored memories of “What not to do” is also being lost with brain cells dying. There are many types of dementias other than Alzheimers. Some are treatable if diagnosed early.
The loved ones of such patients are usually shocked and devastated, not only with the diagnosis, but with the revelation that in many cases this is permanent. They usually think that it must be age, stress or some anger that led to this, but their frustration is usually vented at the doctor when they realise that things are progressive. Visiting quacks in various pathies who exploit hope and frustration, the patient is subjected to much experimentation, abuse and even cruelty like tying them down, beating them up, etc., thanks to our superstitious society. The real tragedy is the waste of precious time- because starting the right treatment may some parts of memory longer, and reverse some types of dementias.
The right counsellors, psychiatrists or physicians recognise the disease easily and refer the patient to a qualified neurologist in time. Certain dementias due to deficiencies of thyroid hormone, Vitamin B12 etc. and depression are reversible to a fair extent, while others may require lifelong treatment with a neurologist. If started early with the right medicines, many cases improve and sustain for months to years.
Many cases of dementia are unmasked when patients undergo surgeries, hospitalisation. Patients with dementia get scared and confused in new surroundings, change of familiar places or absence of near and dear ones. They may have many psychiatric manifestations, and even become aggressive. The most emotionally draining thing is their paranoia and accusing spouse of infidelity.
It is essential to counsel and train the family and caretakers about how to handle such patients. One needs to detach emotional interpretations of patient’s behaviour and treat them like a child. One must never force such patients- to eat, sleep, exercise or do something against their wish (unless of course if they intend to harm self or others). One must also refrain from continuously correcting them, teaching them logic and reasoning, or asking them things they cannot remember.
Who Are You? Is an extremely difficult question to answer. Whatever you are, it exists only in your brain. Take good care of it. Stay away from negative emotions of hatred and discrimination. Don’t compare yourself with others. Practice equality in its true sense, it brings calm. Eat healthy, stay happy and active. Include almonds, walnuts, fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. Control blood pressure, sugars and cholesterol levels.
Avoid red meat, butter, fatty and fast food. Avoid unknown medicines.
Many consider deceit and lying as “essential diplomacies” for success, and happily sacrifice precious personal relations in a quest to succeed for money and fame. Guess who helps us when we forget who we are. Preserve your relationships, speak your mind to your close friends, near and dear ones. Share your feelings, express your desires. Shed egos and reach out to people you like, make up with them. Do this today, because tomorrow it may be too late.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Please share unedited for awareness