Living with Alzheimer’s: Do not forget those who forget

Dr Hamed Al Sinawi –

In the summer of 2010, I returned to Oman after completing my training in London, where I qualified as an old age Psychiatrist. My training included working with patients who had Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Sometimes I used to visit patients in their homes and talk to them and their caregivers, provide psychological support and sometimes — prescribe medications. It was a good experience, and I learned a lot from them.

When I arrived in Oman, I was shocked to find out that my father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He had most of the symptoms I used to see during my training. He would forget our names or get our ages mixed up, misplaced his glasses all the time and repeated himself.
His health deteriorated rapidly, and he refused to go to the hospital and stopped taking medicine. After a few days, he stopped eating and drinking until he was too weak to stand or talk. He was rushed to the hospital where the doctor ordered some blood tests and gave him drips.
Two days later we were told by his treating team that “he was old and there was no cure for his condition”.
He was discharged home, and his condition deteriorated again as he continued to refuse food and drink and became ill. He was admitted back to the hospital, this time, for several days. When he was discharged, he was bedridden and unable to talk. The doctor told us that father needed a feeding tube that goes directly into his stomach otherwise, he will starve.
Father passed away eight years after a long and painful journey.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia that affects people around the age of 60. In some cases, however, the symptoms can manifest at the early age of forty, causing significant challenges for the patient and their family members.
Some patients would still be working at that period, and the symptoms would affect how they make decisions related to the job and deal with colleagues around them. Some patients exhibit inappropriate behaviour causing embarrassment to their family. Some become violent, insist on leaving the house because they don’t recognise that they are at home, or walk out then forget the way back. Others are unable to recognise their family members and may expel them out from the house.
Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain and causes the person to lose the ability to do the simplest things such as attention to personal hygiene or preparing food or paying their bills. Over the past years, there has been a marked increase in the number of people living with Alzheimer’s around the world.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, someone in the world develops Alzheimer’s every 30 seconds. The number of Alzheimer’s patients worldwide in 2018 reached about 50 million, and it’s estimated to reach 75 million in 2030. The cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients is estimated to be around US $1 trillion.
Alzheimer’s disease is a disabling condition that causes the person to be dependent on others. Some patients live for up to 12 years, mostly bedridden and needing to be fed and cleaned. Sometimes, people stop visiting, which makes the caregivers to feel lonely and isolated.
Please remember that although the person with Alzheimer’s may not be able to recognise you or talk to you, your visit would make them and their caregivers happy.

About
the Writer
Dr Hamed Al Sinawi is a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at the Sultan Qaboos University.