By Kornrawee Panyasuppakun
Despite these diseases affecting as many as 670,000 people in Thailand, society at large remains largely unaware of its symptoms. This has resulted in dementia patients, especially those with Alzheimer’s, being mistaken as mentally ill or getting exploited by ill-intended people.
“My neighbour told me my mother is mad and should be locked up,” Pitiporn told a panel on creating a dementia-friendly community organised by the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association (ARDA) at Ramathibodi Hospital on Sunday.
Pitiporn’s mother was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 70. Before being hit by the disease, Pitiporn’s mother had opened a store in Lamphun province. It took several years before the family understood what was happening to the mother.
“Most people thought she was mad because she yelled at vendors and customers in the market,” Pitiporn said. Even after she moved to live with her family nearby, the mother would visit the market about 20 times, Pitiporn said, adding that her mum would often pick flowers from other people’s flowerpots, or bring home other people’s shoes. Pitiporn said this behaviour often led to neighbours holding grudges or being harsh with her.
“The stress is overwhelming for us caretakers,” Pitiporn said.
In order to build a dementia-friendly society, people around should also lend a helping hand, Asst Professor Sirinthorn Chansirikarn-jana, president of ARDA, advised. People should try and understand, instead of being “disgusted”, she said.
She explained that people suffering from these diseases are vulnerable and often exploited by people with ill intent.
“One of my patients withdrew a large sum of money for a stranger and another was tricked into withdrawing over Bt400 million for a close relative,” Sirinthorn said. Many times dementia patients give away valuable items to strangers or get ripped off by shops. “They can be easily persuaded to buy too much food or get short-changed,” Sirinthorn said.
Oftentimes people with Alzheimer’s go missing.
Every month, more than 30 families contact the Mirror Foundation to help find their elderly parents, Eaklak Loomchomkhae, who leads the Mirror Foundation’s Back to Home Centre, had told The Nation on a previous occasion.
So the foundation, in cooperation with True Corp, has created a prototype of QR code bracelets.
These bracelets will allow passers-by to send the location of a missing person to the foundation, and staff will then access the patient’s records
and contact their relatives.
Sirinthorn said the data collected by the foundation must be protected. “The system must be very secure and not every foundation staff member should be able to access the patient’s data,” she said.
Creating a dementia-friendly community can be as easy as offering help to a patient who appears lost, Sirinthorn said, or contacting police officers or related agencies to help take them home.
Also, she said, people could simply “not exploit them”.
“If you find an elderly person buying 10 packs of bread several times a day, you say kindly, ‘Grandad, only two packs for today’,” she said.