Majority of dementia cases in India are never diagnosed, because of lack of awareness of families and lack of training among doctors.
It was about four years back that Bangalore-based retired Navy officer KC Ponnaiyan, aged 67 then, went missing. Ponnaiyan suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and had a full-time nurse. He went missing at Indiranagar, some 15 kilometres away from his home, where his nurse had taken him without his family’s knowledge. His family frantically searched for him, supported by volunteers, for three days. They asked passers-by, used social media, and even had influential people and the Navy pressuring the police to find Ponnaiyan.
While they combed the city based on tips, Ponnaiyan was rescued by villagers in Anekal, some 40 kilometres away, close to Tamil Nadu border, after they found him unconscious in a dry lakebed. Ponnaiyan’s son picked him up at RVM Foundation Hospital in the city where destitute people with mental disabilities are usually sent.
Ponnaiyan had no recollection of what had happened, but his behaviour changed after the episode. Earlier he liked to walk and go out on his own, but now he doesn’t even go to the door of the house by himself, says his daughter-in-law Paluk Khanna. "The incident would have been traumatic for him. When my husband found him, there was relief on his face,” she recalls.
Ponnaiyan is among those lucky to be rescued. In many cases, people with dementia who wander, are not found at all.
Dementia refers to a group of symptoms such as loss of memory, judgement or language, caused by damage to neurons in the brain. It usually affects those aged above 60 years and progresses with age and is most commonly caused by Alzheimer’s disease. The affected person gradually becomes disoriented, behaves inappropriately, has difficulty doing basic tasks like eating, and may wander and get lost even in familiar places.
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