At a time when developing countries, like India, are burdened with rising cases of cancer, cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and obesity, cases involving cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s are becoming a cause of concern among advanced European nations.
The total disease burden of cognitive disorders in European nations is estimated to be around 800 billion euro (Rs 80,000 crore), when that of cardiovascular disorder is pegged at 200 billion euro (Rs 20,000 crore) and cancer at 100 billion euro (Rs 10,000 crore).
Forty million people in the world are presently living with Alzheimer’s and the figure is likely to touch 150 million by 2050. Alzheimer is responsible for 50 per cent of cognitive-related cases globally and the leading cause for dementia in Germany. With the spike in such cases, German researchers are now using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and allied advanced technologies to develop tools for detecting signs of deteriorating mental health.
At Ki Elements in Saarbrucken, Germany, a team of scientists has devised a broad frontline screening tool, Delta, especially for elderly people. The tool uses speech-based techniques — seeks a respondent to spell out names of things from a specific category or offers alpha-numeric puzzles — while researchers parallelly monitor and evaluate the time taken by a patient to respond to these problems, before arriving at conclusions on a person’s mental abilities.
“There is high prevalence of cases with cognitive disorders in Germany and around the world and early diagnosis holds key,” Nicklas Linz, chief technical officer at Ki Elements, said.
Delta’s personalised data base can also be used effectively in initiating medication in such patients, researchers said. “Delta will be close to precision medicine, wherein treatment regime will be decided based on an individual’s genes, lifestyle and environment. Personal data will also help plan treatments and minimise unnecessary side-effects or over medicating,” said Alexandra Konig, chief medical officer at Memory Clinic, Institut Claude Pompidou, Nice, France, and a fellow team member.
‘In India, incidence of dementia, Alzheimer higher in metros
In India, at least 14 per cent patients admitted to mental healthcare hospitals need medical aid for more than five years. Another 24 per cent of them need similar care for a period between 1 and 5 years, a report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed.
According to Dr Bharat Vatwani — who was conferred Ramon Magsaysay award in 2018 for his work with mentally ill street people — advanced medical facilities can affect the incidence of dementia, especially in developed countries. “If the medical facilities are below a certain benchmark — in case of no or limited medical facilities — the patient will not survive in the first place. So there is no chance of dementia to surface. Only if the patient survives a medical crisis, does cognitive deficit remain a residual co-morbidity,” Vatwani told The Indian Express in an email response.
Vatwani, however, warned that depression can aggravate cognitive disorders. In India, the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s is higher in metros than in the villages, which offer better air and water quality. “The incidence of depression is directly corelated to loneliness, nuclear family setups. Depression augments cognitive disorders,” Vatwani said.
The worrying trend in India, according to Vatwani, is paltry budgetary allocations, which is 0.07 per cent of total health budget, annually.
Though 1 per cent of the state’s health budget, Kerala, Gujarat and West Bengal allocate highest sums for cognitive disorders, the National Mental Health Survey conducted in 2015-16 has found. A large portion of this sum, however, is used for paying staff salaries or for procuring medicine. In India, per day estimated cost for availing treatment stands between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000.
“Qualified psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric social workers prefer to serve outside India. There is a need for a change in mindset of the people involved in dealing with the mentally ill patients,” Vatwani said.
Anjali Marar was invited to “Press Tour 2018: The Future of Work”, organised by German Academic Exchange Service in October, 2018.