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Monday, May 27, 2024

Living with Alzheimer’s: How patients and families in the UAE are coping


DUBAI: Vijayalakshmi Srinivasan, 81, has the sweetest smile on his face. She greets you in a friendly manner and is very affable. She instantly connects with strangers and quickly picks up the emotions of everyone around her.

Srinivasan has Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive disease that initially manifests as memory loss, leading to a loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment.

Shoba Dakshinamurthy, 54, has Srinivasan’s daughter by her side. She was very patient and kind to her mother. When she was talking to other people, she listened patiently to her mother’s constant interruptions.

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Shoba Dakshinamurthy with her mother Vijayalakshmi Srinivasan.

“My mother was a working woman and lived a very independent life. My father, who had Parkinson’s disease and passed away in 2014, was cared for by my mother. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she came Came to Dubai to live with me and my family. I started noticing a few things about her since then. She would confuse people’s names. At first we thought it was common in old age. Then I started noticing that she would forget The location of the bathroom and kitchen in the house. The initial diagnosis confirmed that she had Alzheimer’s disease. Later she went to the United States, where my brother also examined her. There, her diagnosis was also confirmed. She always It was asking me to take her to Trisur, her hometown, which is her home. But deep down, she wanted to come home to Dubai with me,” said Dakshinamurthy.

Dr Mohamed Ismail, a neurologist at Prime Hospital, said: “Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that affects the brain, primarily causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior. It is the most common cause of dementia accounting for approximately 60%-80% of cases. The disease usually starts slowly and worsens over time, leading to difficulties with daily function and eventually requiring full-time care.”

Dr Mohammad Ismail

“There are different types of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is just one of them. Other common types include vascular dementia (caused by decreased blood flow to the brain) and dementia with Lewy bodies (characterized by abnormal protein deposits in the brain). There are also rarer forms such as frontotemporal dementia and Parkinson’s disease dementia. Each type of dementia has unique characteristics and may progress differently,” added Dr Ismail.

Vascular dementia patients survive

Italian expatriate Michela Rescia, 48, said her father, Mario, has vascular dementia. “As soon as he turned 80, we realized something was wrong. He would forget a lot of things. But mostly, he would be out for hours and not come home. It was getting scary because we didn’t know where he was , and had no idea what was happening to him. We realized we had to seek medical help. Diagnosis was very difficult at first because he was fully functional. It took us a few years to examine him and confirm that he had vascular Dementia. Meanwhile, his memory and general cognitive function began to deteriorate.”

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Michaela Resia and Julia Iorini.
Credit: Ahmad Atlobi/Gulf News

Make adjustments as a family. Resia said the family decided to let her father live with them in Dubai. “We confiscated his driver’s license. In Dubai we were lucky to have a driver. My dad used to play golf every day. Now his actions are starting to let him down. As a family we will definitely be there for him and Supporting him. As a daughter, it took a while to accept. But 4 GET ME NOT was very helpful in helping him find social activities. 4 Keep me from becoming like a second family.”

Her 15-year-old daughter, Giulia Iorini, said she was making the most of her time with her grandfather as a granddaughter. “For me, I’m very happy that he lives with us. Before when he was in Italy, he lived away from us. Now that we have brought him back, I’m very happy that he is here. We still do it together. Social events. For example, a painting event we attended recently turned out really well. Neither of us are great artists. But my grandfather took great pride in his work. It was a wonderful time with him.

awareness is crucial

Filipino expatriate Desiree Vlekken founded 4get-me-not Alzheimer’s in the UAE, an NGO that aims to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and improve the quality of life of the elderly. 4get-me-not is the only group representing the UAE internationally as it is part of the UK-based Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI).

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From left: Sabrina De Souza, Giulia Iorini, Michela Rescia, Vijayalakshmi Sreenivasan, Shoba Dakshinamurthy, Desiree Vlekken, Mona Al Assaad and Samir Ammoun.
Credit: Ahmad Alotbi/Gulf News

ADI is an international federation of Alzheimer’s and dementia associations around the world; in official relationship with the World Health Organization

Thanks to her initiative, Vijaylakshmi, Mario and others found a platform to meet other seniors like them. They found a platform to socialize as a group. Their families support each other.

Fraken said she founded the NGO in 2013 after her father, Fransciso Ocampo, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “He passed away in 2021 from complications of multiple organ failure and Alzheimer’s. My mother, Elsie, died three months after my father.”

More than 100 Alzheimer’s patients in the UAE are also involved in the Vlekkan programme. “We had educational events, memory cafes with memory games and activities, meaningful engagement/activities, and more.”

Sabria De Souza, a 24-year-old Indian expatriate, volunteers with 4get-me-not. “People with Alzheimer’s and dementia are particularly responsive to music. My dad was a volunteer there and he played music for seniors at our various events. I decided to join in and do my part too. Giving back to society.” Samir Ammoun, 51, a Lebanese expatriate, is another volunteer. “I met a woman once who was lonely and needed a friend to talk to. I met 4get-me-not. It was a great experience meeting older people looking for friends and socializing.”

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Mona Assad with her mother Gada.
Image Credit: Supplied

Mona Al-Assaad, a 60-year-old Lebanese, said Ammoun introduced her to 4get-me-not. “My mother, Ghada, developed dementia in 2014. She started denying that she forgot things. We noticed a change in her behavior and we would find handwritten notes reminding her where her keys were or where her cash was. So we took her to a neurologist and it was confirmed she had progressive disease.”

Her mother passed away in 2013. “I am delighted to see the UAE supporting patients and families.”

The Science Behind Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Mohamed Ismail, a neurologist at Prime Hospital, said the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood, but it involves a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. “In Alzheimer’s disease, abnormal protein deposits called beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles build up in the brain, leading to the death of nerve cells and the destruction of neurotransmitters, which are important for brain cells. Communication between people is crucial.These changes lead to progressive declines in memory and cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Ismail said: “While there is no surefire way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, several lifestyle choices may help reduce the risk or delay its onset. These include regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and especially Is a diet low in saturated fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, puzzles, and learning new skills, keeps the brain active. Staying socially active and maintaining strong social relationships is key. MANAGE AND CONTROL Chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, getting enough quality sleep, and maintaining a healthy weight are equally important.

skills to develop

“While there is no surefire way to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease, certain activities and habits can help maintain cognitive function and overall brain health. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, puzzles, learning new skills, and socializing can help Brain health. For older adults, it is critical to stay physically active, eat a healthy diet, manage stress, and follow routines that include regular sleep. These habits can support cognition and potentially delay the onset or onset of dementia. Progress,” said Dr Ismail.

Things to do:

1. Be patient, kind and understanding.

2. Provide comfort and emotional support.

3. Use simple, clear language and speak slowly and calmly.

4. Maintain a familiar and structured routine.

5. Encourage them to participate in activities they enjoy.

6. Make sure their environment is safe and free from hazards.

7. Maintain open communication with the healthcare professionals involved in their care.

8. Educate themselves about the disorder to better understand their needs.

9. Maintain social connections and encourage friends and family to visit.

10. Seek support from support groups or organizations that specialize in Alzheimer’s disease care.


1. If the person with Alzheimer’s disease is confused or disoriented, do not argue or correct them.

2. Avoid complex or abstract language, which may confuse them even more.

3. Don’t take their behavior personally; it’s a symptom of the disease.

4. Avoid overwhelming them with too many choices or tasks at once.

5. Don’t exclude them from social events or conversations.

6. Avoid criticizing or belittling their abilities.

7. Do not force them to remember or recall information.

8. Avoid unexpected changes in routine or circumstances.

9. Don’t think they can’t understand or feel emotions.

10. As a caregiver, avoid neglecting self-care; seek respite and support when needed.


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