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Search dogs being trained to hunt down dementia patients who go missing

Search dogs being trained to hunt down dementia patients who go missing

The Daily Mirror‘s Danny Buckland wrote on 2 March 2020:

Lowland Rescue in Swindon, Wiltshire, is training dogs as part of the Search Dog Heroes initiative, which will help the relatives of dementia patients.

Roo, pictured with handler Jo Armstrong, recently became the first dog in the UK to be trained (Image: North Downs Picture Agency)

Search dogs are being trained to track down dementia patients who go missing as part of a £1million scheme.

Around 100 are involved in the Search Dog Heroes initiative to help police, relatives and care workers bring vulnerable people back to safety.

The dogs are schooled for a year to 18 months and work with their owners, who are skilled handlers.

The first active search dog, Roo the labrador-springer spaniel, has already found a dementia patient who went missing from a care home in Berkshire.

The five-year-old and her owner Jo Armstrong, a volunteer with the Lowland Rescue service that is training the dogs, responded to the missing person’s scent that had been previously collected as a precaution.

Jane Brown of the Missing People charity said: “The dogs will be a great resource. Loved ones can be found quickly and returned home safely. The dog can be any breed. The important thing is their natural ability and enthusiasm.”

The scheme, funded by People’s Postcode Lottery’s Dream Fund, supplies kits for relatives and care staff to take scent samples from the hands on a sterile gauze that can be stored in a jar for up to a year.

Ms Brown added: “It’s a simple, non-invasive process. For the vast majority of people, it will never be used but it can be vital in emergencies and can also provide peace of mind for relatives.”

Missing People chief Jo Youle said: “These dogs will help save lives.”

Around 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia and the numbers are projected to increase to 1.6 million by 2040, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

Two dogs have been trained so far  but up to 100 will be deployed nationally over the year in a free service.

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SA has only 3 psychiatrists specialising in old-age

SA has only 3 psychiatrists specialising in old-age

SA has only 3 psychiatrists specialising in old-age

This article was first published by health24 on 13 August 2018.

The WHO Global Health Observatory data estimates that there is one psychiatrist per 100 000 of the South African population, and even less (0.4%) in the State sector; this is a situation which is deemed grossly inadequate. By comparison, the United States and the United Kingdom have 12.4 and 14.6 psychiatrists per 100 000 respectively. Of South Africa’s 650 psychiatrists only three are specialist old-age psychiatrists.

Professor Felix Potocnik, of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), says the trend of South Africa representing one of the most rapidly ageing countries in Africa, demands an awareness of the challenges and needs facing the elderly.

“We used to have five dedicated psychogeriatric units at our South African universities, but now there is only one, which is at Stikland Hospital in Bellville, Western Cape,” he says.

“Stikland Hospital is a public hospital and has the only HPCSA-recognised geriatric psychiatry unit and training facility in South Africa. The unit consists of three wards with a bed capacity of 77 (33 male beds and 44 female beds). It is over-subscribed with a waiting list exceeding several weeks. The reason for this is that the Western Cape has some 600 000 elderly of whom an estimated 40 000 (6.6%) are suffering with dementia.”

Growing older population 

South Africa’s elderly population is growing rapidly – but state mental health care is not adequate. About 30% of adults aged 60 and older will at some stage require medication to treat mental conditions.

The most recent population Census shows an increase from 2.8 million older people in 1996 (7.1% of the total population) to 4.6 million (8.1%) in 2017. Worldwide it is expected that the number of older people will surpass the number of children by 2045, and that the global population of people older than 60 will more than double – from 900-million in 2015 to 2 billion in 2050. By the end of this century, a third of the global population will be elderly.

Challenges of advancing age

Potocnik says greater reliance is placed on family, friends, social support groups, district clinics and regional hospitals to help with providing services for the elderly. In addition, medication is costly.

But why are the elderly at such risk of mental health problems?

Potocnik says the challenges one faces with advancing age create strong emotions such as sadness, anxiety, loneliness and lowered self-esteem. Coupled with physical and/or mental disabilities, it renders the individual more vulnerable and unable to engage in many activities in daily life.

“Older adults who are suffering from depression experience symptoms that disrupt their daily lives, resulting in withdrawal from social activities, friends and family and all the things that used to bring them joy. It’s important for family members to be vigilant and recognise any changes in behaviour and to seek help from medical and allied services.”

Multiple cognitive deficits

In South Africa, about 7% of the elderly population suffer from dementia.

Potocnik says dementia is usually a slow and progressive condition that requires specialised monitoring and treatment from a psychiatrist.

“While some element of forgetfulness accompanies one’s later years, it is important to realise that it is not a disability if you can still make rational decisions and get on with your daily life. Although the key symptoms of dementia include forgetfulness, in the earlier stages it is about multiple cognitive deficits that herald a decline in one’s ability to think abstractly and logically, to use language properly and to make sensible decisions.”

“The brain’s inability to function properly starts affecting every day activities. The person may present with an inability to keep their attention and focus long enough to meaningfully read a book, an article, or follow a TV programme. An artist might fail in the standard of their art, a person might incessantly fall asleep at work, or there may be a steady increase in pathological hoarding.”

Potocnik says that aberrations of mood are a very early sign of impending dementia. There is usually an underlying current of irritability, often accompanied by emotional outbursts. The patient may also present with relapsing bouts of depression or anxiety which become increasingly difficult to treat and contain.

‘Second childhood’

“The personality may change. This may range from subtle exacerbations of existing characters traits to uncharacteristic behaviour where, for example, a clergyman is found shoplifting, or businessmen making rash decisions quite contrary to their previous behaviour.”

He says memory loss among those suffering from dementia includes the inability to learn new information, losing items of value, and becoming lost in unfamiliar surroundings. In more advanced stages of memory loss, one may forget crucial details and dates as well as not remembering or even recognising family members.

Potocnik says in very advanced stages patients may not even recognise their own reflection in a mirror.

“Overall, the duration of dementia may be as short as six months, or exceed two decades. While the patient themselves rapidly lose insight and are unaware of any problems they may be causing, this ‘second childhood’ is extremely stressful for the caregiver. Their incidence of depression and other illnesses, need for medication, or even hospital admissions is double that of their peers. The caregiver looking after a dementing spouse has a six times higher rate of dementing themselves (12 times higher for male caregivers) when compared with peers where both partners enjoy normal mental health.”

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Planning for incapacity: Dementia in Focus

Planning for incapacity: Dementia in Focus

As improvements in medical science and technology allow us to live longer, incapacity – both physical and mental – is becoming a growing local and global problem. Contrary to popular misconception, dementia is not a normal part of ageing, but rather a degenerative brain disease – with age being the single biggest risk factor for developing the illness. Simply put, the longer you live the more likely you are to get the disease. Unfortunately, legislation and policy have not kept pace with the growing need for the affairs of those with diminished mental capacity to be looked after.

Although the World Health Organisation recognises dementia as a public health priority that is on the increase with no foreseeable cure, South Africa has massive strides to take in providing adequately for the health, legal and financial needs of those who suffer from the disease. Whereas countries such as Canada, Australia and France have dementia policies in place, no such policy exists in this country. In fact, dementia is not listed as a prescribed minimum benefit and the Department of Health does not recognise it as a chronic disease. Most open medical schemes do not recognise the illness as a chronic condition and very little cover is provided for the illness, if any.

From a global perspective, it is believed that around 50 million people have dementia and that there are 10 million new cases diagnosed each year. According to South Africa’s 2011 census, there were 2.2 million people living with dementia at that stage, and this number would have increased with global trends. While the majority of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease, other causes can include vascular disease, brain injury, cancer and HIV. Recent reports by Alzheimer’s Research UK reveal that 2 out of every 100 people between the ages 65 and 69 have dementia, whereas this number rises to 1 out of 5 people between the age of 85 and 89 – to the extent that 7.1% of people over the age of 65 have dementia.

Eric Jordaan – Crue Invest (Pty) Ltd, writes about this topic for Moneyweb: Planning for incapacity: dementia in focus. To read the rest of the article, click here.

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