Newspaper Coverage of Dementia in India: An Exploratory Analysis (Part 2)

This blog post is part 2 of a two-part series on newspaper coverage of dementia in India. (read part 1 here)

Background: I had undertaken an exploratory study of the dementia/ Alzheimer coverage in the top Hindi and English newspapers to see how existing coverage may contribute to awareness/ support. In part 1, I documented my selection of newspapers how I gathered articles, and some initial analysis based on quantities (read part 1 here). In this post, part 2, I share my content analysis and suggestions.

Topics of this blog post:

Approach to assessing a published piece

For my content analysis, the reader profiles and the possible desirable outcomes I considered were:

  • The (uninterested) general public: Typically persons who know nothing or very little about dementia. They may have seen persons with dementia symptoms, but and are not looking actively looking for information, and may not find the information useful. Desirable outcomes for this profile are increased alertness towards symptoms, better diagnosis-seeking behavior, and more supportive attitudes towards families living with dementia.
  • The solution-seekers: These are persons who are concerned about dementia, typically because they or someone close to them has dementia. They are likely to read anything connected with dementia and will probably notice the word even if it is buried deep in an article. Desirable outcomes for these persons are better ability to live with and support dementia, reduced stress, reduced sense of isolation, and more willingness to share their experiences.

For the analysis, I looked at the full set of articles using two different perspectives.

  • The various types of articles, the proportion in which these types appeared, and their typical coverage of dementia.
  • The aspects relevant for spreading dementia awareness and information in the public, and checking how effective the existing coverage was with respect to each such aspect.

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Perspective 1: Article types found, the relative proportions, and the way they cover dementia

Types of articles mentioning dementia :

Hindi English
Wellness/ study reports 142 (61%) 185 (44%)
Event related articles 32 (14%) 40 (10%)
News articles mentioning dementia 24 (10%) 150 (36%)
General articles 33 (14%) 34 (8%)
Others 3 (1%) 10 (2%)
Total 234 articles (3 newspapers, all years)(100%) 419 articles (3 newspapers, only 2015) (100%)

Articles related to wellness/ health/ miracle-advance in medicine/ research studies: This was the largest category of articles, both in Hindi and in English. The percentage of articles in this category was higher in Hindi than in English (61% compared to 44%) as shown in the table alongside. Most of these contained only the words dementia/ Alzheimer’s or a small phrase about them, mainly focusing on memory loss. Some had sensational, confusing, or misleading titles or content. A few contained a bit more detail, but often these were complicated and buried.

Announcements/ reports of events and inaugurations around Alzheimer’s, or some related field (e.g., geriatrics). These typically related to World Alzheimer’s Day functions, conferences, release of reports, and were mostly in the months of September/ October. These formed 10-14% of the articles in both Hindi and English (see table). Article scope was often a mix of things such as names of experts, event venue and topics talked about, dementia statistics, etc. Some also included layperson-friendly information on dementia symptoms, risks, and the diagnosis process.

Current news articles that contained some mention of dementia. These were an assortment of celebrity news, crime news where some party had (or claimed to have) dementia, drug company news, business news, reviews and award announcements for movies, books, etc. The Hindi newspapers had a far lower percentage of articles in this category (around 10%) compared to the English newspapers, where they were a significant 36% of the total. Most such articles only contained the words (dementia or Alzheimer) or the standard phrase on ‘memory loss’.

General articles that mentioned dementia. These included personal essays, or special health features. They formed around 8-14% of the total coverage (see table). Many of them gave at least some useful information on dementia or care, and some were very useful.

Other articles that mentioned “dementia” and “Alzheimer”. These included many where these words were used as part of normal language to connote forgetfulness/ unacceptable behavior, etc. Some of these mocked politicians or complained about systems or used the words to joke. They formed around 1-2% of the total coverage in both Hindi and English.

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Perspective 2: Content effectiveness for each aspect relevant for awareness/ information

Establishing familiarity with dementia/ Alzheimer as a serious medical condition

Current newspaper coverage is encouraging in terms of basic exposure to the words, both in Hindi and English. “Dementia “and “Alzheimer” seem to have become part of lists used in wellness articles along with other serious conditions (diabetes, cancer, etc.).

Studies on dementia are being reported, too (though far less in Hindi than in English).

Exposure/ familiarity are a good foundation for an awareness drive. However, they work only if the usage is positive and if these are supplemented with availability of enough reliable and usable information.

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Information conveyed regarding salient characteristics of dementia

Around 73% of the articles only contained the word dementia (or Alzheimer) or used the context or a shorthand phrase/ context to imply one aspect of dementia.

In the Hindi pieces, the most emphasized aspect was forgetting. Other phrases indicated age-related illness and mental illness. Typical phrases were: भूलने की बीमारी, स्मृति लोप, याददाश्त की कमजोरी, स्मरणशक्ति की समस्या, बढ़ती उम्र की समस्या, दिमागी बीमारी, मानसिक बीमारी. A scant few articles mentioned brain and cognition, often using rather Sanskritized Hindi: संज्ञानात्मक (ज्ञान संबंधी) गिरावट, मानसिक क्षमता ह्रास, बोध क्षमता, संज्ञान से जुड़ा विकार, मस्तिष्क का क्षय.

Anecdotally: I asked some middle class persons what they understood by some phrases (संज्ञान , मानसिक क्षमता ह्रास, cognitive impairment, neurodegenerative disease). Many had no idea of the meaning. None of them could come up with examples of behavior changes they would be alert about. I queried about “memory loss”, and almost everyone told me they suffered from it. Misplaced keys, forgotten activities, and forgotten names of people and movies were quoted as proof.

English newspaper coverage also mainly mentioned memory loss, age-related, and mental-illness, but other phrases were fairly common, too, such as: cognitive decline, cognitive impairment, neurodegenerative disease, etc.

All in all, these one-phrase depictions don’t inform laypersons what to be alert about, or how dementia/ AD symptoms may be similar to or different from old age. Terms like memory loss and old age are too all-encompassing for practical use.

On a related note: In both English and Hindi, this over-identification with forgetfulness has some very unfortunate implications because of the tendency of people to use it to mock/stigmatize. More on this later.

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Information conveyed on dementia basics


Newspapers: a common morning sight at any shop

While many articles talked of the need to avoid getting dementia, or suggested superfoods or healthy living/ active ageing for this, they did not explain dementia symptoms, duration, progression, and challenge clearly enough or explain why it was considered serious.

  • Of the articles studied, only around 6% explained some of the dementia symptoms in friendly, understandable ways that I considered helpful to laypersons.
  • Many aspects of dementia were neglected in almost all articles, such as the duration, progressive nature, the changed and difficult behaviour, possibility of early onset, possibility of initial symptoms other than memory loss, increased dependence and reduced mobility in later stages, etc.

As pointed out earlier, the “memory loss” aspect was repeatedly emphasized. This, along with missing or minimal mention of other symptoms, resulted in very unrealistic depictions.

For example, some articles said things like “a person may even forget the names of family members” as if that was the worst that could happen, and ignored problems of later stages, like persons not being able to do even simple tasks, incontinence, inability to swallow, becoming bedridden, etc

Seriousness of dementia was conveyed using terms like “debilitating” condition, “battle”, “throes of dementia”, “afflicted” and “suffer”, but these terms, in the absence of explanations and examples, do not increase the readers’ understanding or appreciation of the difficulties of dementia.

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Information conveyed on dementia prevention/ treatment

While articles with wellness advice and general interviews with doctors included some useful tips for reducing risk, and also discussed treatment, they were also sometimes misleading in big ways and small.

  • Wellness type articles were sometimes somber and useful; others carried exaggerated claims, usually about a superfood/ super-remedy. As articles on superfoods keep getting published, this may not be a problem, as people are used to reading such claims in articles with titles like “20 uses of .”
  • Misleading presentations of study reports are more problematic. Articles often presented the result of a single study as if talking about a well-tested cure or an established medical fact.
    • Sensational headings were common and tended to be simplistic and misleading. Even if the article text was balanced, the title’s dramatic impression could linger.
    • In Hindi newspapers, many of the translated research-related articles were heavily abbreviated; they did not include the disclaimers and nuances present in the English equivalents, and hence can confuse/ mislead.
    • Some study reports were useful; they reminded us to adopt healthier lifestyles.
  • Interviews of experts (doctors, nutritionists, others) for health/ active ageing, or specific interviews for dementia.
    • Some such articles combined medical information from a doctor with non-medical advice (such as claims regarding superfoods/ herbs); combining the two in one article may be seen as approval by the expert quoted elsewhere in the article.
    • Some experts were quoted as saying that following their advice will “prevent” dementia. To most laypersons, “prevention” means never getting the disease.
    • Sometimes articles claimed (and even quote experts) that treatment will stop the disease or cure it. This could make people think dementia can be reversed.

In summary, some articles contained useful information on risk, treatment, diagnosis, but many of them also included misleading information. In articles quoting experts/ doctors, such misleading/ wrongly quoted tidbits are more believable, and hence more harmful.

Unfortunately, there were almost no articles that explicitly busted myths or squashed misleading claims or clearly and firmly corrected the misquoted expert-speak.

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Information conveyed on dementia prevalence

People take a condition more seriously if they know others with it, and can see how tough it is to cope with.

One way this sense of closeness/ immediacy is reinforced is through news items that mention that someone has dementia (a celebrity or someone else). News about creative works (movies, books, plays, etc.) that include a character with dementia also help. Even a single-word mention ( had dementia) makes dementia more “real.”

  • Articles in this category: Just 22 (around 9%) in Hindi fell in this category; there were many more (137 articles, around 33%) in English. This could be because the persons reported about in Hindi newspapers are not of the profile that admits to having dementia, or the creative works of interest to Hindi readers do not depict someone with dementia.

The possibility and challenges of dementia also hit harder through articles where families/ acquaintances describe their personal dementia-related experiences.

  • Articles in this category: I found fewer than 5 Hindi articles that presented real-life care situations (this is too low to even consider what the proportion is). The number was better in English– 30 articles, (around 7%). Such articles often involve locating and interviewing families, which means more effort. Hindi lags behind English in this.
  • Many personal stories were featured in city supplements of newspapers, not in the main newspaper, and were available only in some cities, limiting their visibility.

Prevalence is sometimes conveyed using statistics. Such mentions were often associated with event reports, and more visible in English newspapers. However, most readers don’t remember population and ageing numbers. They do not mentally convert national prevalence figures into an understanding of how prevalent dementia was in terms of people around them. These are just large numbers, and they don’t even remember the units of the numbers after some time (was it a lakh? a million? a crore?). I, therefore, do not consider such coverage effective in conveying (at an emotional level) that real people–we and those around us–can also get dementia and face major challenges.

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Information conveyed on dementia caregiving

Mention of caregiving in dementia articles, if present, was usually perfunctory and confined to platitude-filled sentences. (“They need love and care.”). Some articles included general advice on care or some tips/ comments by experts. Another source of care information was articles where people share personal stories or when a news item describes challenges that families faced because of coping with dementia.

  • Articles in this category: Around 14 (around 6%) in Hindi, and somewhat better in number/ proportion at 56 articles (around 13%) in English.
  • Even articles that carried some care-related information/ experiences did not provide a comprehensive view of care. They usually ignored aspects like the extent and type of care, and how to prepare for it. They did not mention counselling, training on care skills, resources, etc. Even collectively, they did not have enough detail for caregivers to appreciate the range of care-related work that needs to be planned for and done, and how to proceed.

The much lower coverage of the care aspect means readers don’t think about how dementia may impact the family. Seen along with other coverage gaps, newspaper coverage ends up depicting dementia as some sort of memory loss problem that can be stopped or removed using medicines and love.

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Negative factors in information conveyed–stigma/ mocking

Unfortunately, the close association established between dementia/ Alzheimer with forgetting/ confusion and with mental illness has resulted in the words being used in normal language while depicting confusion and forgetfulness.

Here, for example, are some phrases from essays on utterly unrelated topics: “When the establishment is going senile, it feels everyone else has Alzheimer’s.” or “If you have been lucky to encounter such an odd creature, what do you think is wrong with him? Senile dementia?”

Worse, dementia and Alzheimer are used to mock people, especially politicians. In one instance, some workers of one party sent Alzheimer pills to a senior leader of another party as a “unique” protest. Jokes and accusations are increasingly made about politicians having Alzheimer’s. Such pieces seem more interesting than staid interviews and fact-filled articles, and get shared and liked on social media. This usage is damaging and difficult to stop.

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Overall usefulness of articles

Many articles containing the word dementia/ Alzheimer had only the words or a phrase or so. Some had a bit more, but often not in a usable, friendly way. I consider an article useful if it gives usable information on dementia and care to laypersons without stigma, and contains a good amount of information or at least conveys one important aspect very well, and where the misleading tidbits are relatively low. My subjective assessment, summarized:

  • Both in Hindi and English, only around 9% of the articles were reasonably useful for laypersons to learn about dementia and care. However, the quality of usefulness was somewhat higher in the English articles.
  • Many articles, including useful ones, contained a least some misleading/ confusing information. I tried to locate articles where the confusing/ misleading element seemed serious enough to (in my opinion) increase the chance of harmful beliefs or decisions. I categorized 15 Hindi articles (around 6%) and 12 English articles (around 3%) as harmfully misleading. Also, some articles directly stigmatized dementia. I found 4 Hindi articles and 10 English articles in this category.
  • Note, too, that the quantity of articles in Hindi is much lower. Considering the overall picture, we have roughly 2-3 reasonably useful articles per year per newspaper in Hindi, and around 12-14 reasonably useful articles per year per newspaper in English. None of these useful articles provided comprehensive coverage. Put together, too, the total coverage misses many important aspects of dementia and care.
  • On the whole, the quality and scope of coverage of the useful English articles was better than that of the useful Hindi articles, and the misleading tidbits based on studies were fewer in English. English articles also did a better coverage of the care aspect and had more coverage that could make dementia seem more real to readers. But stigmatizing usage of the word was high.

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The daily newspaper, part of the morning ‘chai’ routine

Suggestions to improve the situation

Stop the chances of a negative information loop . Counter misleading information, debunk myths, and condemn use of dementia/ Alzheimer to mock others. Talk and write about this, and build up public opinion against such stigmatizing. Stop the tendency to mock/ stigmatize before it reaches the levels it has reached in other countries because once it sets in, it is extremely difficult to correct.

Improve the overall quality and quantity of coverage in all newspapers. Some things to consider:

  • Use every event and occasion to disseminate usable information about dementia and care in simple, understandable language.
  • When talking of dementia, take care to also convey the serious aspects of dementia and care, not just “memory loss” or initial symptoms. Talk about challenging behaviors, late stage dependency, the duration of dementia, progression, etc. Use examples and simple language.
  • Take active steps to avoid being misquoted or quoted out of context. Often reporters, because they do not understand dementia well enough, miss nuances and hence inadvertently mislead readers because of the way they frame a sentence or select sentences from a larger interview. Make the reporters’ job easier and less prone to error.
    • Provide reporters material they can directly use in sidebars and as explanations.
    • Provide reporters press-releases of events
    • For expert interviews, opt for e-interviews and ask that you be quoted verbatim, and that if any paraphrasing is done, it should be validated with you. In some cases, reporters may even agree to show you the section of the article draft pertaining to your interview, especially if the interview is a long, informal phone chat and the article is not being rushed because of a deadline.
  • Improve visibility for family experiences of living with dementia/ supporting dementia. Talk about the critical role of care, the planning and work it requires, and the support available. Help reporters locate and contact potential caregiver interviewees.
  • Some reporters/ writers have a family member with dementia. Encourage them to write general articles and help them do a good job.
  • In general, try to get useful coverage throughout the year, including coverage in the main sections of the paper and not just city supplements.

Additionally, find ways to get useful visibility for dementia in non-English newspapers. This is where bulk of the readership is. Understand how such newspapers select topics and articles, and use this to get more visibility and to spread awareness and information effectively. Some things to consider:

  • Develop terminology in Indian languages that is easy to understand, non-stigmatizing, and yet does not water down the seriousness of the problems faced in dementia. That way, reporters will have a set of words/ phrases to use and will not end up using stigmatizing words or words that trivialize the problems.
  • Try to get coverage in Indian language newspapers. Invite their reporters for events. Provide them press releases to use even if they cannot attend. Actively seek reporters/ writers of Indian language papers to write general articles included. Help them using various ways (as discussed earlier) so that they can write more effective and useful articles.
  • Appreciate the problems of translating and abbreviating study reports/ research-related and find ways to dispense more balanced information on such studies. Directly counter/ debunk wrong information when talking to reporters or addressing gatherings.

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In conclusion

This two-part blog entry provides the highlights of what I learned from my study; I have not commented on many other interesting aspects like article attractiveness, readability, and retention of content. I consider the data presented above sufficient as a starting point to act. Of course, all my work was based on articles available free online and anyone interested can gather and study such articles, and draw their own conclusions and suggestions.

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References

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Information and stories on dementia and care: Books from India

I’ve often lamented that we do not have enough discussion around dementia suitable in an Indian context. I’ve said that this it makes it difficult for families living with dementia to feel their experiences are part of the normal discourse of life. (Okay, so maybe I didn’t use those exact words, but sort of…)

spine-side picture of books discussed in this post Anyway, things are changing (albeit slowly). So around a couple of months ago I began collecting books written in an Indian context, published in India, and which are about dementia or at least prominently include it. I had some of these books already; I bought the rest.

Here’s the set I gathered and have commented on below.

For this post, I am considering these books only in terms of whether they could be useful/ interesting to persons in India who are concerned about dementia and related care. These could be persons in families living with dementia. Or they could be students, volunteers, professionals, etc., who want to know more and understand more about dementia and about care realities and the culture around dementia etc.


Broadly, I categorize the books as under:

Most of these books are available at stores like Amazon.in and Flipkart.com; search using the book name. For books that have to be ordered directly or are difficult to search for, I have included links to direct sites.

The comments below are, of course, just my personal opinion.

Textbooks, medical explanations, and books suggesting care approaches for dementia

cover of Handbook of dementiaHandbook of dementia (eds: Nilamadhab Kar, David Jolley, Baikunthanath Misra). This is a medical textbook (second edition: 2010). Its chapters have been written by experts in the dementia domain in India. The book, to quote, “aims to provide, within one volume, a user-friendly review of current knowledge and thinking on dementia, suitable for professionals and carers working for the persons affected by dementia.” It is expected to be useful to “physicians, psychiatrists, neurologists, geriatricians, general practitioners, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, caregivers and family members of dementia patients.”

The book is an excellent reference text covering a whole range of topics around dementia-causing diseases, behavior changes, person-centric care, etc. It is a thick book (438 pages) but that is reasonable for its coverage. The book is a collection of chapters by different authors. While writing style varies across chapters, a lay person can definitely get a lot of benefit out of the book.

In my opinion, this book is extremely useful for volunteers, students, and professionals. It is also very useful for caregivers and has many chapters that are directly useful to them. For example, in addition to discussing dementia features and medication, the book covers a range of care topics like handling behaviors, occupational therapy, legal issues, caregiver well-being, etc. Also, the book can be used as an authoritative reference to show to persons who refuse to believe there is such a thing as dementia.


cover of Handbook of dementiaUnderstanding Dementia: Disease, Treatment & Care (ed. Prof Shyamal Kumar Das). This relatively slim 2009 book has chapters by different authors. It gives the reader a useful overview of various types of dementia, the diagnosis process, changed behavior, etc. It covers dementia well, and explains the symptoms in ways that are easy to relate to. The text is very readable. It also has many relevant illustrations. Coverage on how to care is low, however, and will need supplementing with other material.

The book can be useful to students and to doctors from other specialties. Its friendly, explaining approach makes it suitable even for laypersons. It may be particularly helpful to families trying to understand the problems of dementia and the challenges the person may be facing. Its illustrations and simple language make it suitable as a authentic medical book that families can use to convince persons who refuse to believe the diagnosis. The book is available through the ARDSI Kolkata chapter.See their page.


cover of Insight into Dementia Care in IndiaAn Insight into Dementia Care in India (Leena Mary Emmaty) provides information on dementia and care in India. It is written by a social worker. Alas, the book I have is from 2009 and I have not seen a later edition. The book gives a useful overview of dementia and care. It is based on original research and gets dense at places. It often quotes terminology and studies that may not be relevant for caregivers looking for information and practical advice.

Students of social work, nursing, gerontology, psychology, etc. can consider this book as a reference. Caregivers may also find it worth checking out, especially because there are very few India-specific dementia books in print. Caregivers will have to extract useful concepts and tips from text that is sprinkled with technical terms and mentions of research papers.

The sections on resources in India are (naturally) quite outdated.


Information on dementia and care in languages other than English

cover of Chitadu Chorayu - Dementia Ni DuniyaA Gujarati book for dementia and care is available from Flipkart, titled “Chitadu Chorayu – Dementia Ni Duniya ચિત્તડું ચોરાયું ( ડિમેન્શીયાની દુનિયા) (Daksha Bhat)“. It briefly covers dementia and its symptoms and types, diagnosis, medication overview, impact of dementia, caregiving, caregiver stress, daily routine, challenges, etc., and has some explanatory figures. (disclosure: the book includes a link to my site in its references).

This is a small book with a modestly priced paperback that can help Gujarati-reading families get introduced and aligned to dementia and care. The book is available on Flipkart and also from this page.


cover of Dementia ParicharyyaA Bengali book is available from ARDSI Kolkata, “Dementia Paricharyya ডিমেনশিয়ায় পরিচর্যা (Ed. Nilanjana Maulik)“. This book is for caregivers supporting their loved ones with dementia in a day to day situation. It highlights the strategies caregivers can use for their routine tasks. Topics covered include description of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, comparison of dementia with aging, how to interact with someone who has dementia, explanations and tips for several topics like communication, bathing and cleaning, various daily activities, healthy living, and also problems like depression, hallucinations and delusions. The book coverage is useful and impressive. Unfortunately, the book does not have any pictures or illustrations.

This is a a slender, modestly priced volume, and could be very useful for Bengali readers who want to learn about dementia, its impact, and care. It is available from ARDSI Kolkata. See their page.


Experience sharing by caregivers (offers some perspectives of how families experience dementia,through these real-life stories)

I found three books in this category, all containing accounts of personal experience of care. All of them also include some philosophizing and analysis, a natural mechanism caregivers use to cope with the drastic dementia changes. All three books provide interesting insights into what families may experience. Keep in mind, though, that each family experiences dementia in its own unique way. They interpret and analyze the situation differently, too. So when reading such caregiver-sharing books, readers have to remember that their experience and their perspective may turn out to be quite different.

cover of  Alzheimer's: The Mission ContinuesIn the line of Alzheimer’s: The Mission Continues (Brig (Retd.) S P Bhattacharjya): This is the first person account by Brig Bhattacharjya, who at the age of 84 was still looking after his wife Sukla who was then 72 years old. The narrative is remarkably detailed and covers many incidents from the pre-diagnosis stage. The book covers around fifteen years of Sukla’s decline, sharing incidents, mistakes, things that worked and that did not. These include symptoms which the family missed then and only later realized may have been because of initial dementia. While sharing the anecdotes, Brig Bhattacharjya places them in the context in which they happened, shares them with honesty, and also often includes his own analysis. The book is detailed but flows smoothly and is an easy read.

Professionals and volunteers will find this book very useful to understand realities that families face. Caregivers can obtain an idea of the type of problems some families face at various stages of dementia, and the types of mistakes made. The book is published by ARDSI Kolkata. See their page.


cover of Krishna: Living with Alzheimer'sKrishna: Living with Alzheimer’s (Ranabir Samaddar): This is the first person account written by a social scientist who was the caregiver for his wife who had Alzheimer’s Disease. The book includes the narration of the last stages of his wife and his account of his grappling with the medical systems is honest, detailed, and insightful. The book is peppered with well-researched data and rich analysis. About the final stages, he says (pg 133): “It is a complex process by which death comes to countless Alzheimer’s patients through the remorseless operation of the means and modes by which medical business runs, the profession works, and medical knowledge prevails.” And, on pg 134: “You realize only gradually that the system is the silent killer of Alzheimer’s patients. Doctors know little about patient care, can advise even less on this, and are not willing to learn from caregivers because they think that medicine is a matter of specialized knowledge.”

The book has several chapters detailed his experiences. The late-stage care chapters, especially, are extremely valuable in our Indian context where late-stage dementia is handled at home and often requires multiple interactions with health care professionals and hospitals. I have heard of similar experiences from many families, but tired, bereaved, frustrated caregivers rarely talk about them openly, and almost never to the media, so this important problem remains under wraps. Volunteers and professionals who are concerned about supporting dementia families may not even be aware of these. The book also contains several chapters about the earlier years of dementia, both the personal side and the social side. Perspectives about “quality of life” have been discussed in a very interesting way. The book is heavy reading in parts, especially when medical data is discussed. But caregivers looking after persons in earlier stages can skip the late-stage dementia part in their first read and return to these parts later.

This book is a must for professionals and volunteers who need to understand problems that families face in the health care system. These are the persons who can help change the system. The book is also important for caregivers, who can get a perspective of how dementia impacts persons, and also a cautionary tale about dealing with medical aspects. Of course, not every family faces the same situation, whether on the personal front, social front, or medical support front–but this book can help people think about situations and how they may handle them if they arise.


cover of A World WithinA World Within: a remarkable story of coping with a parent’s dementia (Minakshi Chaudhry) This is written by a daughter, and describes her father’s decline. The book is full of well-narrated, touching anecdotes that show various sides of the father–in some he remembers and talks about the past, in some he shows mild confusion, in some where he deteriorates further. The incidents are told with honesty and loving detail and touch the heart. The writing style is intensely personal, and anecdotes are enriched with personal musings, regrets, and insight. The love shines through alongside the glimpses of the growing problems.

Again, a worthwhile read for everyone who wants to know what a family living with dementia may experience. Of course, every family has its own journey through dementia, but this is a valuable insight into one such Indian family.


Ethnographic studies of dementia and care in India (mainly for serious students with time and patience or others with a somewhat academic bent of mind)

These are books that discuss how dementia has been handled through the ages in India, what the status of support in India is, and how families cope with dementia even today. I found two books in this group.

cover of No Aging in IndiaNo Aging in India: Alzheimer’s, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things (Lawrence Cohen) is a book whose paperback was first published in 1999 and with a copyright of 1998 with the University of California.

As such this book did not fit my self-imposed search criteria of looking for books published in India that may be of use of caregivers. But it is one of the best books I have read. It is a book that anyone serious about the ethnography of dementia would love to read. The book is an interesting cultural analysis of aging in India. It is also very dense and a heavy read. Lawrence Cohen is a medical anthropologist who is concerned about how people “comprehend the body and its behavior in time” and the book is a detailed account of his observations and study. A must for someone serious about understanding dementia in India through the ages–anthropology or ethnography students, for example–but be warned, this is a book that needs patience, time and attention. It is not aimed at caregivers.


cover of Unforgotten: Love and the Culture of Dementia Care in India Unforgotten: Love and the Culture of Dementia Care in India (Bianca Brijnath) is another ethnographic study, this time of middle-class families in urban India. It describes how these families care for persons with dementia. Set in 2014, and focused on the urban middle-class, the book may be easier to relate to by many caregivers who read this blog. It is dense, though, and full of references. Readers need to be attentive.

The book is probably best for students and researchers. Do not expect a swift or breezy read; be ready for a meandering, rich read instead. Again, a must for someone serious about understanding dementia in India. If you are a caregiver, well, this book gives several insightful and interesting caregiver stories, but it can be a heavy read.


Other books, such as fiction, humor, etc.

These are some books that integrate dementia into fiction plots, essays, etc. Some felt authentic, some misleading, and some disrespectful.

cover of Our Nana was a NutcaseOur Nana was a Nutcase (Ranjit Lal): This is, I think, intended to be a children’s book but I enjoyed it. In spite of its apparently odd title, the book is a delightful, sensitive, and extremely love-filled portrayal of an eccentric grandfather who starts showing symptoms of dementia. Excellent writing. It offers an impressive portrayal of early changes in dementia and how the family realizes something is awry. How the grandkids and others puzzle a bit, and then not just accept him but work hard to make sure he stays at home with them, loved as always. All the characters are portrayed well enough to seem real. For example, the grandfather is vivid as a person, and the grandchildren are fun-loving and affectionate, sometimes mischievous, sometimes disobedient, sometimes considerate.

This book is a great example of fiction that seamlessly includes persons with dementia and has characterizations that are entertaining and informative, yet without any preachiness at all. All through the book, the grandfather is a person and never reduced to being merely a patient. He is someone who is loved and very much remains part of everyone’s life.


Some other books I checked out are listed below. While they are all related to dementia in some way, I do not find their coverage of dementia suitable for informed awareness and improved sensitizing.

Sleeping with Jupiter (Anuradha Roy): This is literary fiction, full of complex nuances. It has an overall theme of loss and searching for the past. The book does this through the stories and experiences of many characters. One such character is an elderly lady with increasing disorientation and forgetfulness. While it portraying the lady’s experience nicely, her behavior is not seen as a possible medical problem by others around her. The symptoms are not noticed as being different enough from aging. Dementia is not mentioned at all, though some reviewers have assumed it (that is how I was given the book’s reference). It is unclear whether the author was depicting her perspective of varying ways people age, or whether she wanted to depict early dementia. The book is good as literary fiction, but it is not a story that can be used to understand or develop sensitivity towards dementia.

Silver Haze (Pankaj Varma). This is related using the first-person voice of the person with dementia–the mother. The author has modeled the story based on his mother, who had dementia. He tries to imagine what she may be thinking and also describes what he thinks her past was like. The bulk of the book, in fact, is supposed to be what the mother (fictional mother) wrote after knowing about her diagnosis. This narration is smooth and rich with detail, and even includes self-awareness about her dementia. The impression the book gives is that this lady with dementia is very coherent and has excellent recall. It is as if her dementia does not affect her ability to write a complete, coherent, detailed life story (the sort of activity that would typically take months or years).

While I am not saying that this can never happen, this would be very unusual. Such a problem-free long-term project of self-expression seems unlikely for someone with dementia. It does not seem consistent with most descriptions written by persons who have dementia (their blogs, books, videos). Also, I and the caregivers have all seen our loved ones with dementia struggle with words and concepts, have huge gaps in memories, and make many mistakes in recall. So this book’s narrative voice didn’t work for me. More important, it could make readers think this is typical. They may therefore underestimate the problems and cognitive decline that persons with dementia face, and have unrealistic expectations or put undue pressure on the persons. Read this book as fiction if you want; if you want to know the experiences of persons with dementia, read their blogs and books and see their videos.

Delights of Dementia and other essays (Dr. G Lakshmipathi). This has a set of allegedly humorous essays on many medical conditions, including dementia (the essay that lends the book its title). I found the book’s humor unsuitable for stressed caregivers and even others. The book’s language around dementia is stigmatizing. Descriptions (fictionalized) of confusions and delusions caused by dementia are described as if they are a source of entertainment that a doctor can use for some sort of comic relief. I am extremely uncomfortable with the thought that someone with dementia or someone supporting them may read this book; they may feel mocked or isolated or may hesitate to contact doctors if they think all doctors think like this. My detailed book review is on amazon.in (a one-star review).

Some other posts on how dementia is covered in stories, movies, media, etc., and also some links to dementia care story sharing in India:

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Using Online Caregiver Forums: Some Observations and Thoughts

Caregivers need support groups but often find it difficult to get away from their responsibilities and attend an in-person group. Their available free time may be too small a slot, or may not match the time of a scheduled support meeting. The more overwhelmed and stressed the caregiver is, the less likely it is that this caregiver can reach an in-person group.

This situation is really sad because support groups reduce caregiver isolation and provide a safe forum to exchange stories, problems, and suggestions with each other. Attending even a few meetings can transform how caregivers perceive their situation; they start finding the challenges more bearable, the changed behavior is taken less personally, and they are able to use suggestions they get from others and even generate creative solutions themselves.

Given the practical problems related to attending in-person groups, we need to examine the use of online forums for caregiver sharing and support. I am using this blog post to share my observations and thoughts, and give my suggestions, based on a number of online support groups that I have been part of–some as an active participant, and some as a lurker.

There are many types of online caregiver forums. At one end of the range, there are large forums that have structure and moderation and are handled by a group of committed persons/ some volunteer organization, and continue for years. And then we have small, informal groups that some caregivers form to stay connected and support each other, with membership varying from five or six to around fifteen or so.

Let me first share my observations and thoughts about smaller, informal caregiver groups. If you have been part of such groups, I’d love to hear from you about your experiences and impressions…

In the last five years, I have seen many instances of caregivers creating their own online groups. Some groups emerged after caregivers met during some face-to-face support group meeting or caregiver training and decided to stay in touch online. Others emerged when caregivers happened to meet online and decided they needed to get together for mutual support, and therefore gathered a group by bringing in friends (and friends of friends) or using social media. These groups were relatively informal with no active moderation. While some members were volunteers or professionals were included, they were not present in the capacity of a moderator or administrator or even an expert, just present as members.

Firstly, the groups were typically very fast to set up. Some caregiver would tell another, let’s set up something to stay in touch, and then a few of them decided on a technological platform they all were comfortable with and plunged in right away. I’ve seen email groups and Facebook groups (but not bulletin boards) getting kicked off and working full steam within days of someone suggesting starting a group.

The initial momentum was heartening. Caregivers were clearly eager to get and give support and they openly shared their situations and problems, and were generous to each other while empathizing and sharing suggestions. Conversations were meaningful and it was clear that a rapport was building. Of course, the usefulness of the group depended on the members’ availability, involvement, knowledge, and degree of articulation, but definitely most members found the groups helpful.

However, the tempo faded after a while. Participation died down even though no one specifically unsubscribed. Some queries got no responses or just perfunctory responses. Queries stopped after a while. Some subsets formed when two or three caregivers began corresponding directly/ established phone contact, but the online forum was no longer active.

One typical characteristic of these small informal groups was the lack of detailed rules and active moderation. This initially added to the sense of friends getting together, an informal air, and worked in some groups, but not in others.

There were problems, too. Everyone was not happy with the group; some even got stressed by it.

Here’s one example. One caregiver (I’ll call her AAA) was handling an aggressive parent with dementia alone, day and night, and did not have an attendant to help. Siblings had moved away and would not call. None of the other caregivers were facing such a severe challenge; they had at least some family or helper support, and not all were actually handling the daily care tasks. When AAA would post her problems and others responded, she was very unhappy with the responses because she found the responses obviously impractical given her situation (take a break, get help from your sibling) or she felt dismissed because someone would tell her to lighten up (don’t take yourself so seriously, have a good laugh instead, you’ll find it funny when you look back at it later).

After a few such responses, AAA wrote directly to me to say that the group stressed her because she had expected at least fellow caregivers to understand her problems, but now she felt even more isolated. She felt the group was not a safe space for her to unburden herself or seek help. She stopped participating there, and she and I continued our interactions on a one-to-one basis using email and phone. It was ironic and unfortunate that a support group increased her isolation.

I think one problem is the way we respond to online interactions. An in-person support group meeting is an immersive experience; caregivers see facial expressions and hear the emotion in the voices when problems are shared. Even if someone’s situation seems very different from their own, the face-to-face interaction makes it easier to pay attention and feel empathy. Selecting an appropriate response is easier, and it is easier to see when to avoid humor or realize what could sound preachy or trite or judgmental. Suggestions and comments are therefore better worded, longer, and supplemented by gestures and facial expressions that reaffirm the spirit of support.

On the contrary, in an online forum, people may not read posts/ mails carefully, or may type a hasty reply without grasping some key facts from the original post, or may sound harsher than they intended to. Or, even if they write well enough, the person reading it may be oversensitive about some phrase or suggestion, and feel hurt.

My impression, based on my (limited) experience, is that small, informal online groups function better if the members have met each other or talked to each other before interacting through the forum, because even a few earlier interactions or in-person meetings make them more willing to share experiences and create trust. They are also less likely to take offense or interpret responses as put-me-downs.

The problem AAA faced is only partly because of the characteristics inherent in the online mode of interacting. There are other factors, too. We use the word “caregiver” as if all caregivers were the same, but there is a vast diversity in caregiver situations. A small, informal online group of diverse caregivers does not include enough members who can understand and support each other for every type of care situation.

Another thing that made me uncomfortable in some of these groups was when members posted specific suggestions and advice on medication and alternate treatments. These alternate approaches were projected as medically sound, but were recommendations that I knew were scientifically suspect. Data posted to counter the claims was seen as obstructing “helpful” advice. I felt that this was the sort of situation that would typically warrant intervention by a knowledgeable moderator, but the group was not structured for moderation.

None of the groups inducted new members except for a token few in the beginning. Meanwhile, existing caregivers “moved on.” Caregivers don’t need help from the group once the person stabilizes and they get the knack for handling the situation. Or if the person reaches a different state for which the existing support group is irrelevant. Or the person dies, and the caregiver has to resume a career or rebuild a life. My impression was that existing members were not keen on new members because that would be adding an unknown factor in a group that had some sort of rapport.

Let me now share some observations based on a much larger, structured group with formal rules and guidelines on what sort of posts and language are allowed, and with moderators overseeing group functioning. Members include several caregivers coping with diverse care situations.

As in the smaller groups, I saw the participation of individual caregivers change a lot over time. Some rarely posted; others posted actively for some time but then reduced participation or even stopped it; some were sporadic in participation. However, as the number of caregivers was very large, and as new caregivers kept joining, the interactions remained vibrant and helpful. No query remains unanswered. The moderators, too, actively participated and keep the flow of exchanges going.

No group can be free of misunderstanding, and I did see occasional posts that seemed judgmental or harsh but usually some other member or moderator responded almost immediately to express enough empathy with the original poster and related query, thus diffusing any possibility of hurt. Inconsiderate comments were not tolerated. Spam messages or misleading promotion of dubious cures were similarly handled by moderators and other group members.

As I write mainly out of concern for caregivers in India, I must note one problem: the membership in the larger caregiver forums is usually from outside India, and many of the queries and comments assume a very different culture and very different types of system and support. Discussions on end-of-life care, legal and financial issues, use of services, availability and regulation of helpers, all are based on a very different set up. That means many suggestions can be used only partially.

So what can I suggest caregivers in India who are looking for online support?

Firstly, online support groups as such are definitely worth considering. Online groups provide 24×7 availability of a forum to post. The sense of community helps. You may get empathetic responses and feel less isolated, and you may get some useful responses.

If you already know some other caregivers with whom you share some trust/ rapport, getting together and creating an informal online group is worth considering. Of course, expectations need to be limited, and such groups may not suit caregivers whose situation is very unusual and different from that of all the existing members. And members need to understand that such groups cannot be depended on for medical advice.

Also, please do look at existing dementia forums/ caregiver forums run by volunteers/ organizations/ groups of concerned persons. They will reduce your sense of isolation and give you some idea of the problems and solutions others use. Even when the exchanges in such forums don’t always suit your context, they could contain useful pointers. Also, look for online support groups set up for special situations, such as for specific types of dementia (Lewy Body, FTD).

A good approach is to join multiple groups, and understand which type of need each of them can meet. Use these groups depending on the fit, participating according to where you feel comfortable sharing your problems and also sharing your suggestions for the problems others face.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before participating in an online group.

Groups have different degrees of privacy, and even if a group is supposed to be private and if posts are kept private and confidential as per the technical platform used, ultimately the actual implementation depends on the other members, too. If you are posting something very personal, and are very particular that no one should be able to link your posts to you, consider groups where you can use a pseudonym and do not share details that could identify you.

Some groups (such as groups on Facebook) may be confidential, but you need to enroll with your real name. Members can click through your name from a post you made in the group and see your public profile. Keep that in mind if that seems to be a problem to you.

Also, in very large groups, keep in mind that your family members and friends (or their friends) may also join. Keep that in mind when posting details or rants.

Well, those are my thoughts and observations related to caregivers considering online support groups, and I would love to hear from you about what your own experiences have been on the effectiveness and usefulness of such groups, or your suggestions to caregivers on this.

If you are a concerned person trying to help persons living with dementia, you may be considering setting up an in-person group or an online group. I have created two draft documents that put together my thoughts on what setting up and running online groups and in-person groups involve. Both these documents are available online and also for download, and you can refer to them. I would appreciate any comments you have, so that I can refine the drafts and release improved versions. The page where you can view the documents or download them is here: Create dementia care support groups (includes download). The two individual documents are available for download at Setting up and maintaining an online caregiver forum to support dementia caregivers (PDF file) and In-person Dementia Support Group Meeting Guidance Document (PDF file).

I really would like to hear from you, either as comments below or as an email (check my contact page to know my email id).

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Down memory lane, one year of gathering caregiver perspectives, caregiver voices

I’m an asocial and risk-averse person, but I can be bloody-minded if convinced that something needs to be done, and so I sometimes start projects that defy sanity. That’s how I plunged into a rather hefty project around a year ago, self-directed, without any pressure from anyone but my own stubborn nature. It happened when I got sick of rummaging for dementia care stuff directly applicable in India, because though the Internet abounds with information on dementia, and also on its care, and there are plenty of books, too, most of these are designed for a different cultural context.

I wanted more tips that could be used here, in India, with terminology I could relate to, more examples, more situations. Stuff that took into account the abysmal awareness about dementia in India, and the lack of institutional support. Stuff that suggested resources available in India, or in Indian languages. Most of all, I missed the voices of fellow caregivers–their stories, their struggles, their successes. The community that remains hidden in shadows.

And so I created the Dementia Care Notes site.

Of course, there was no way I could say that anyone would bother to visit my new site. How would people know it existed? Why would they bother to read it? But hey, even if I lost some time and effort and money, at least I wouldn’t get this dirty helpless feeling that I hadn’t tried…

It was in September last year that I started planning an entire site dedicated to family caregivers looking after dementia patients in India. Not just a section on a website, not merely a few pages or a pamphlet, but a full-fledged site. I drafted out the core set of pages, and then bought the domain and made the site live. The website now has over 90 pages, all full of information about dementia and its care, resources in India, books, DVDs, presentations, and…plenty of interviews.

As of today, the Dementia Care Notes site has twenty-three detailed interviews, eighteen of them being interviews of caregivers: List of caregiver and volunteer interviews.

Read the full post here

Some days are good

This is an update to my previous post regarding my mother’s condition; after a two-month-long deterioration, my mother stabilized, and then began showing awareness of her surroundings again, and responding to us on some days.

As anyone who has lived with a dementia patient knows, there are good days, and there are bad days. Before March, while my mother was generally inactive and not talking, there were days when she’d nod, smile, and say a few words. She would clasp my hand and kiss it.  She smiled.  Once in a while, she’d surprise us with a full sentence that made sense. Such good moments were what brightened the caregiving and brought smiles to our lives.

Those good moments reduced and then vanished around March this year.

My mother stopped uttering even a Yes or No and she no longer nodded or shook her head or clasped my hand. She barely opened her eyes when fed, and often refused to open her mouth. She did not wince or show any pain reaction. She did not react even when the technician jabbed her for a blood sample. It usually takes multiple jabs to take out a sample from her, and they have to poke around the needle in her flesh in a way that seems like sheer torture, but she slept through that entire process. The test reports were within acceptable ranges, and the doctor could not find any problem when he examined her. But she was fading, and we could not reach her as she sank into some world of her own.

We continued to talk to her, hold her hand, try and coax her, but at times it felt as if we were intruding, because it was not clear whether she preferred our presence or wanted to be left to her silence. We also kept trying to tweak things in ways we thought she would be more comfortable–wiping off her sweat, making her drink ORS when it seemed hot, and so on–but it was mainly guesswork, because she was not complaining or wincing or showing any happiness or unhappiness.

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Summary post for the Jan 2011 blogfest

Having driven myself crazy trying to locate something in my own blog, I finally decided to create this summary post to give a quick reference point for all 31 posts I made this January. Here goes:

Jan 1: A new year, and this begins my month-long blog-a-day : Declaring my intent to blog through every day of January 2011

Jan 2:Day 2 and warming up to the blogging: How people, because of their ignorance about dementia, may be inadvertently hurting dementia patients and their family, and comparing awareness of dementia with other medical problems

Jan 3: Ignorance is not bliss… : Sharing memories of how persons, ignorant about dementia, have repeatedly hurt my mother by their insensitive and presumptuous remarks, and dismissed my explanations because they projected their own needs on my mother

Jan 4: Enjoying fun time with my mother : How I have found that my mother and I can enjoy many activities together, such as playing games and telling stories, even though she cannot really remember rules of games or follow a story.

Jan 5: The unexpected quality of openness : Having fun time with my mother resulted in our being relaxed with each other and her being able to open up more about her fears and problems

Jan 6: Being the Wind, being the Sun: Meandering thoughts about the years, my mistakes, my opening up, and learning. A decision to look into the past to see those mistakes and see how things could have been different if I had understood dementia earlier. The past is over for me, but others are still on that caregiving journey…

Jan 7: Pattern spotting : Explaining my belief that the tendency to fit every behavior into a rational model (that attributes intention) causes a lot of pain if the person behaving oddly has dementia; we see stubbornness and meanness where the real reason for the behavior is possibly confusion and disorientation. Sharing anecdotes that could be interpreted in alternate ways if I’d known of her dementia

Jan 8: Hints and misses : Things are always clearer in hindsight. Looking back to see how some incidents in the past (before her diagnosis) were indicative of dementia

Jan 9: Learning from our experiences : Explaining why I have decided to share, in the following blog entries, the progression of my mother’s dementia, and how it changed her life and mine.  What follows over the next few days may not be pretty.

Jan 10: Beginning to understand the reality of “memory loss” : How it started becoming obvious to me that “memory loss” was not just forgetting where you placed a key; it meant you couldn’t read TV timetables or make out whether it was morning or evening: anecdotes shared.

Jan 11: Murderers, thieves, and an old woman amidst them : My mother’s confusion and disorientation created many difficult situations for us. She was scared and unhappy, and I was hurt by her accusations and clueless on how to handle suspicions.

Jan 12: She doesn’t cook for me : Describing the difficult years of care, of being accused of neglect by my mother because she forgot things, of embarrassment I faced, and criticism

Jan 13: Hurting herself without meaning to : Incidents recalled when she exposed herself to cold weather or hot, skipped her medicines, and so on: all without wanting to hurt herself, but too confused because of her dementia

Jan 14: A common loneliness…: Looking back at those difficult years, trying to understand how lonely and insecure she must have been, how I did not understand, how I lacked ways to reach her. I, too, was overwhelmed by her constant suspiciousness and fault-finding and repetitive behavior

Jan 15: Care for everyone but a dementia patient… : Beginning to describe how I tried to adjust my life to care for her. How dementia onset is so insidious that one does not realize one is caring for a patient, and there is no guidance on how to handle it. I did not know I had embarked on a long caregiving journey…

Jan 16: Paring down to essentials : Continuing my description of how I had to keep shaping my life to cope with my mother’s continuously increasing memory loss and disorientation, and the consequent demands and accusations and insecurities. How people around me did not understand or support, and I had to keep cutting out chunks of my life

Jan 17: Reshaping career and identity : As my mother’s dementia grew, the impact started affecting even my ability to continue with professional commitments, and major adjustments were required

Jan 18: A new place, a new start : Describing the move to another city, how it was difficult for her to accept, and how I tried to gear the new apartment in the new city to exactly fit what my mother needed

Jan 19: The turning point, and becoming proactive : Sometimes, there are no simple solutions.  Describing how, when some persons close to us just would not understand dementia and kept hurting my mother by their comments, I had to take a number of drastic steps to give her a space that was safe. And how she finally started turning around and relaxing in this space I finally managed to create for her.

Jan 20: Not Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s? Then why’s there a problem? : People are strangely reluctant to accept that someone could have a genuine problem if they have not heard of it.

Jan 21: On diagnosis, on doctors who may not know or care : Sharing my distress at how poor awareness of dementia is even within the medical community. How doctors in emergency services and in other specialties dismiss my warning that my mother has dementia.

Jan 22: Our first consultation with a specialist : Beginning a set of entries on my mother’s medical problems and our visits to neurologists. Here, I describe the fall that marked the beginning of my mother’s problems, her deterioration, and our first consultation with a specialist who was a good shrugger and explained nothing.

Jan 23: When the specialist laughed at her : Continuing the description of our attempts to find out what the problem was; this second specialist was one who wouldn’t bother to look at her MRI and who laughed at her.

Jan 24: Finally, some clarity about the diagnosis: The third specialist gives us a diagnosis, and tells us what to expect, but I could have done with more input on the “care” aspect

Jan 25: Echoes across caregivers, touching lives : I talk of my commitment to share multiple caregiver experiences through my website, and share my experiences of talking to other caregivers; there are commonalities we all share. Yet many caregivers are unable to speak of our problems, even under the cover of anonymity, and instead carry the hurt inside them for years. Links to available interviews.

Jan 26: A sense of loss : When a dementia patient loses his/ her memories, we suffer not just because we see our loved one suffering; we, too, lose our shared memories and our shared past. For spouses of patients, this is especially heartbreaking.

Jan 27: Understanding, believing, denying: On dementia awareness, and why just saying “memory loss” is not enough; people do not get a measure of the horror of dementia with that innocuous phrase. And shared anecdotal evidence of how even persons, even medical persons, who theoretically accept dementia as being caused by a medical condition are not emotionally convinced of this.

Jan 28:Over years of caregiving…: A rambling of how over a decade of caregiving has changed, or hasn’t changed me. I talk of the shifting profile of my work, my social life, my approach to life, and yet some changes are not deep enough

Jan 29:Past tense and kadhi pakodi : How someone thought my mother was dead because I often use the past tense to describe her likes and dislikes. Tracing her fondness of kadhi pakodi over the years to show what has made me inadvertently switch to the past tense. We all change over the years…

Jan 30: My mother, a collage of my memories : A nostalgic piece about my mother, her childhood, my childhood, a jumble of memories, some shifts in impressions as I re-examine things with adult eyes. Some scanned memories, some tears that make me stop writing.

Jan 31: Phew! A month-load of blogs done; time to pause to breathe and have dark chocolate : Blog marking end of 31-day blog fest and over 51,000 words, and declaring I’m off to have dark chocolate and pamper myself by doing weird stuff.

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My mother, a collage of my memories

I’ve been writing a lot about my mother as she has been these last few years. She is now bed-ridden, apparently peaceful and happy, and mostly silent, uttering a few words for an immediate need, but not articulating anything complex. But she was very active some years ago, sharp, very clear about what she thought and wanted, and today I’ll step back into the past and share more of the person she used to be before all this happened.

My mother was a very private person, for one. But she was also very particular about helping people and often went out of her way to do things for them. One thing she was very insistent about was about donating her body. At a time when she was already facing problems writing, she once heard someone say that body donation does not happen if the person has not clearly declared the intention of body donation. A couple of hours later, she handed me a paper. Here’s an excerpt:

 

My mother does not know I blog. But given the above, I think I am meeting in intent what she would have wanted.

Outside India, people understand that people who get dementia were not “lazy” or inactive, low-IQ laggards who could have avoided such a fate by being active. But in India, as I wrote some days ago, people behave as if dementia is something that touches only people who were, in some way, negligent.

No one could have called my mother lazy or low in willpower or negligent.

At a time when women barely studied and very few studied up to graduate level, my mother completed three post-graduate degrees: Psychology, Philosophy, and Education.

My mother taught in colleges and schools till she had to give it up because of my father’s frequent transfers and other such problems.

A few years ago, in a dementia daze, my mother tore off many important documents of her past, but some survived. For example, there is this thick typed document that was part of her M Ed work. It was a document she was particularly fond of, and work she felt deeply about.

When I was in school, my subjects were very different from what she’d studied. But till I reached class eight, she tried to stay abreast and teach me when needed. She had never studied geometry, but she picked it up for me. And Sanskrit.

She loved driving. Absolutely loved it. Drove much better than my father did. I remember once, when a colleague of my father had to be dropped somewhere, he somewhat hesitantly requested that my mother do the driving instead of my father 🙂

Read the full post here

Echoes across dementia caregivers, touching lives

I have been sharing my experiences as a dementia caregiver in India, but I am just one such caregiver. There are many more, most of them invisible, unheard, shrinking into anonymity while coping with their overwhelm. Caregiving is not recognized as a role in India. And sometimes, as Shikha Aleya has said, caregivers are invisible even to themselves.

When I began blogging about my experiences two-and-a-half years ago, I was desperate and wanted to use writing as a tool for catharsis and also to examine my feelings. I hoped writing would help me crawl back up into a more wholesome life. I had nothing to lose; there were no friends helping me, anyway. There was no harm in spilling it out. No risk.
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We need more of us sharing our caregiving experiences

In many of my blog entries on dementia and caregiving, I have shared my impression that poor awareness of dementia in India is a major concern area. I often feel that dementia is far less understood in India than in some other countries, and that the role of the caregiver not seen as a significant, contributing role  that needs special patience and skills.

Relevant in this context is the work of 10/66 Dementia Research Group. To quote them:, “10/66 refers to the two-thirds (66%) of people with dementia living in low and middle income countries, and the 10% or less of population-based research that has been carried out in those regions.” This group is a collective of researchers working on population-based research into dementia and related areas in these countries.

Interestingly, the website includes a report on Qualitative Studies which confirms my view of poor awareness of dementia and caregiving in India.

The report reminds me of a support group meeting where a caregiver shared how, when his father was diagnosed with dementia, the family was so ashamed they wanted to institutionalize him and  isolate him (hide him, get rid of him so that they were not associated with him), and when the son took over the caregiving, they isolated him, too.

I think we need more people speaking up about dementia, and about caregiving. We need more people admitting that the elders in their family have dementia (admitting to themselves, admitting to others). I hope more people will write about it (blogs, books, articles, reports, novels, whatever), speak about it, think about it, so that one day people with dementia in our country can life a fuller life to the extent their ability allows them, and carers can care for them and lead fulfilling lives of their own, all done with dignity.

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Were those signs of impending dementia?

In 1990, I published my first book, co-authored with my husband. We were both very thrilled with the milestone, and presented a copy to my parents. The book, What Every Manager Should Know About Computers, was (according to us) a very simple introduction to computers. We assumed anyone would be able to read and enjoy it, especially proud parents. (or at least they could pretend to do so).

Well, my father tried reading it. He read two chapters, then gave up, but he did say that maybe, if he was younger, he would have been able to read more. He then switched back to the bestseller he was reading.
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there and yet not there

Nowadays, my mother sleeps for most of the day, and the rest of the time, she looks sleepy. I have tried holding her hand and talking to her, she smiles lazily, sometimes utters a word or phrase, and then closes her eyes.  If I ask her whether she is sleepy, she nods her head.

This is not a sudden change, but it took me a while to register this new ‘default’ state. I realized yesterday that we had not played games with her for a number of days, because whenever I suggest a ‘game’, she shakes her head. I have managed to make her count my fingers, or identify colors and objects, but even that seems to tire her, and so I have to stop after a short while.

A year ago, she would do small jigsaws, place rings on a rod, and play games where  she recognized or matched colored pictures. She saw albums and commented on them. We used picture charts. She even read a few phrases from a large-print Panchatantra book.  She could read aloud letters from her grandson (written in simple sentences, printed out in large font). She practiced her signature every day, and sometimes managed it almost correctly.
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Joys of the crafts

One problem of my mother’s restlessness is that she starts scratching herself, and then continues to do so till her skin had livid patches of red. They hurt, so she scratches herself even more. The doctor had prescribed mild anti-histamines for it, and the course he suggested got over two days ago.
And sure enough, she was scratching herself again within a day of the medication stopping. We try to keep her from hurting herself by filing her nails smooth every day, but she manages to snag her nails and break them despite their being short and neat. We tried to distract her, but it didn’t work.

So yesterday, I thought about trying out mittens. That way, even if she scratches herself, it is unlikely to be severe, and she may even forget to scratch…who know? Worth a try…
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tooth tales

Out of the blue yesterday, I had a few fun memories of caregiving. I must admit they weren’t that much fun when they happened, but when I remember them, I find myself grinning.

Like the day my mother told me her teeth were hurting, and I asked here where, and she touched her eyes.

Or another teeth-hurting day, when she could not say which tooth was hurting till I took out her dentures, and then she touched a tooth in one of the dentures and told me, this one.

Mom always had the great confusion about dentures. If I held out the denture and asked her to put it on, she would tap her (existing) teeth, and nod, as if to tell me she had already done so 🙂 On a few occasions, she tried to take out her teeth after already having taken out her dentures.
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blogs on dementia and caregiving

This is going to be a busy day, so just a small note to say that I am thinking of putting up a page on blogs on dementia and caregiving.

I have noticed there are a lot of excellent blogs that share a whole bunch of useful and interesting stuff. Yesterday, going through their entries, I suddenly wondered how my life would have been different if I had found these blogs earlier.

I was very impressed, for example, by Alzheimer’s Reading Room

If any of you have any leads to pass on, please do so as comments here, or by e-mailing to me.

a community of caregivers

It was just over an year ago that I felt alone as a caregiver. Not so now. The community of caregivers is scattered around me, people performing a role that demands extreme empathy and involves overwhelm.

Yes, caregivers end up living a life with priorities and perspectives very different from others around them.  But we can connect with each other, share tips, share both the joys and travails of caregiving. We can be there for others who are just embarking on this journey.

And through honest sharing of our experiences, we can make the journey easier for others.

A few weeks ago, through a comment on my blog, I connected with Ekta Hattangady from Ahmedabad.

Ekta was thrust into a caregiving role for her mother (an Alzheimer’s patient) at an age when most girls are handling adolescence problems and excitement. She was 13 when her mother (then 42 years old) was diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Her mother died after six years, and these six years of caregiving have left Ekta with experiences that have stayed close to her heart. The deep empathy required, as well as the sense of overwhelm and loneliness have made Ekta determined to do something for care-givers. She hopes she can help others who suffer as she did.

Read her honest and touching poem on caregiving

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