At least 200,000 people in the nation are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, also known as senile dementia, and the number is increasing at a rate of 25,000 patients annually, according to estimates by the healthcare industry.
Huang Wei-che (黃偉哲), a psychiatrist at Sin-lau Hospital in Madou District (麻豆), Tainan City, said that about 70 percent of senile dementia patients display noticeable mental problems, such as having delusions and experiencing melancholy, but the most common symptom is being paranoid about somebody stealing their belongings.
It is typical of patients suffering from senile dementia to hide their belongings out of fear that someone might steal them and when they cannot remember where they put something, they immediately assume that somebody has stolen their things, he said.
Huang said that one of his patients, a retired elementary-school teacher aged 68, began suffering from poor memory about four years ago. She has had trouble finding her purse, she often forgot to put water in her electric cooker, and starting about one year ago, she began to wake her husband up in the middle of the night, asking him: “Who are you? Why are you sleeping beside me?”
The patient has lost her sense of direction and the ability to set the temperature of her bathwater, and she sometimes defecates on the streets.
She has also displayed other bizarre behavior, such as hiding broken umbrellas which she found on the road in her closet, and hiding her toothbrush and towel in a drawer, he said.
A cerebral CT scan revealed that her brain has shrunk slightly, Huang said.
He added that the disease also affects patients’ ability to speak, make calculations and their spatial awareness, which cause them to make impaired judgements.
Senile dementia is often portended by mental problems, including grumpiness and paranoia; therefore, arguments often arise between patients and caretakers. These could inflict a great mental burden on the caretaker, causing them to break down eventually, he said.
Huang said the best ways to stay mentally sharp are to exercise 30 to 40 minutes each day and interact with people as much as possible. Sticking to a Mediterranean vegetarian diet would also help, he added.
To effectively control the disease, early medication is a given, he said, adding that combined with an environment offering patients a sense of security, a change in their daily routine, cognition training, new ways of communication, music, pets and arts therapy, the mental problems and symptoms accompanying senile dementia can be improved.