Dementia on the rise in Israel

Alzheimer's and other brain diseases are becoming a plague.

By
September 18, 2007 21:10
3 minute read.
helping hand

elderly senior 88.298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Some 70,000 Israelis suffer from Alzheimer's disease - the most common type of dementia, which can even strike, although rarely, in one's 40s - but with the ageing of the population, the figure is expected to reach 120,000 in 2020. In the US, there are five million patients, including 13 percent of people over 65 and 42% of those over 85. Their numbers are expected to triple by 2050. Alzheimer's and other Dementias' Awareness Week begins on Wednesday and lasts through September 26. The progressive, fatal disease begins with memory loss and confusion and ends in death from complications of brain dysfunction. Family members who take care of the patient are victims of Alzheimer's as well. While there is no cure, the mental decline can be slowed with medication and other treatment, so early diagnosis is important, says EMDA, the Israel Association for Dementia and Alzheimer's Patients, which has 33 branches. One of the family members who has been helped by EMDA is Clive, who immigrated from South Africa. His brother Steven, now 49, was diagnosed with a rare dementia disease, supranuclear palsy, two years ago. It is the same disorder that felled British comedian Dudley Moore at 66. The symptoms are similar to those of Alzheimer's, although the causes are different, but they include Parkinson's-like symptoms such as falling. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Clive said: "This is a disease that nobody chooses to have; anybody can get it. It is completely random - and it needs a lot of love." He said Steven, who is living with his septuagenarian parents in Ra'anana, exhibited symptoms at an unusually young age that were hard to diagnose. He was initially reluctant to get help at facilities that help the demented, as everyone was old, but now "he has no choice." Steven receives medication to reduce the falls and antidepressants to help his mood. A former silk-printing artists, he has been adopted by the Ra'anana Photography Club. "Sometimes he is catatonic, sometimes he is in deep depression, and when people are nice to him, he smiles and is happy," Clive said. "Strangers tend to avoid him in the street, but sometimes in a restaurant, people will put their hand on his shoulder in understanding." Steve has three children aged 13 to 21 in England. "It's important that families and the patient realize they are not alone and that they get information on patients‚ rights," said Clive. He praised Sheba Medical Center for its treatment and Maccabi Health Services for giving his brother more physiotherapy and occupational therapy than he is entitled to. "It takes four years on average to diagnose, and patients can live six to 10 years beyond that. Steven has said he wanted to die, but not anymore," Clive said. "I am not angry." MK Marina Solodkin recently initiated a meeting on the issue in the Knesset, attended by doctors, social workers and patients' family members. She called for intensified effort to find a cure and in the meantime to establish a network of social and psychological support for patients and relatives. This was supported by Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who said her father suffered from the disease for many years. During the awareness week, information about the disease will be distributed to those who call *8889. Melabev, one of the country's leading organizations in assisting Alzheimer's victims and relatives, is busy organizing its fourth annual "Don't Forget Us" walkathon in the Negev. It will begin on November 26 from the Ramon Crater; where participants will be bused there from Jerusalem. For two days, the walkers may opt for a more difficult or an easier walk. Melabev says social and therapeutic activities can enhance the quality of life of victims of dementia, and the organization builds on what patients can still do, from painting and gardening to baking. Through its nine day centers, several support groups for family caregivers and home care program, Melabev serves more than 300 families in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.

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