Dr Jennifer Rouse

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COVID-19 may have accelerated cognitive degenerative diseases like dementia among the elderly.

So said former director of the Division of Aging at the Ministry of Social Development Dr Jennifer Rouse, who called for memory clinics to be set up throughout the country to assist the elderly.

While the Ministry of Health has started a clinical assessment on all 214 senior citizens homes across the country, Dr Rouse said more has to be done to educate the population about mental health and cognitive disorders like Alzheimers and dementia.

She said dementia is a generative decline in mental abilities which occurs among people over 60. However, she said many people were walking around without knowing that they were experiencing the early signs of dementia.

She said all Regional Health Authorities should become aged friendly and all supermarkets, banks and corporations should make provisions to assist the elderly.

“All clinics should become aged friendly. Southwest Regional was doing it. They had people in geriatric care and they treated them with respect and dignity,” she revealed.

She also said that seniors should have a special allotted time to do business at the banks and supermarkets.

“Don’t have them wait on a chair. It is mentally stressful for them,” she said. She also said the memory clinics should have testing to assess pre-existing conditions which make them susceptible to other ailments.

Rouse revealed that people suffering with dementia usually go back to places in their formative years which left an impact on their lives. They may yearn to see people from their past and could forget their spouses, children, grandchildren and other loved ones.

She noted that it was unwise to remove someone with dementia from their place of comfort.

“They may lash out and think you are kidnapping them. You need to explain what you are doing for them. Treat them with respect. You are not talking to a child but you must always remain calm and speak in a reasonable tone,” Rouse added.

She said most times unresolved issues of the past come to the fore when a person begins to develop dementia.

“Issues that they never dealt with and that remained in their system. Bottled up anger and bottled up frustration could be a trigger in their demented condition. It is almost as if they have two personalities.

Rouse also said with the Hurricane season here, proper shelters for people with dementia and other cognitive disorders should be set up. Trained geriatric personnel must be available to deal with patients who can become disoriented and possibly violent when they become stressed.

While there is no cure for the diseases, Rouse said it was important for family members to get training and assistance in dealing with loved one suffering from cognitive disorders.

She said the disease can be slowed down with medication noting that dietary changes must also be made to include dark, green leafy vegetables.

Meanwhile, chairman of the JC McDonald Home for the Aged Dr Allan McKenzie said the COVID-19 lockdown may have triggered a further degeneration of cognitive disorders among the elderly. He said during the lockdown loved ones were not allowed to visit their relatives who are staying in homes. This, he said, triggered depression which exacerbated cognitive abilities.

Mc Kenzie said it was important to keep the brain active. “Elderly people are at high risk for COVID-19 but they also need to be in constant touch with those whom they consider as their friends and relatives,” McKenzie said.

He added that the lockdown was necessary but was a serious deprivation for the elderly who live in homes.

“The lockdown created anxiety and distress. It slowed down the working of the brain. Chatting with people from different aged groups and your relatives whom you love makes it easier to deal with these diseases,” McKenzie said.

He called on the Social Welfare department to organise visits from specially trained personnel at all senior citizens homes.

“The elderly should not be driven to despair and isolation. They need to be given assurance,” he said.

He also called for religious organisations to have special visitations to the elderly homes so they could feel hopeful and reassured. Exposure to negative news constantly about COVID-19 could also trigger anxieties which are not good for people with degenerative cognitive diseases, McKenzie added.