BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a new set of challenges for dementia patients, many of whom are undetected for degenerative brain diseases in Brunei, the health minister said on Monday.

In a statement to mark World Alzheimer’s Day, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said social distancing measures have exacerbated dementia patients’ symptoms.

He said public health measures are necessary to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but have made it more challenging for those experiencing loneliness, depression and social isolation.

In terms of pandemic preparedness, the minister admitted that there were shortcomings in the provision of daily services and support for dementia patients.

“It is very important for dementia patients not to be socially excluded during the outbreak. Therefore, the need to understand and obtain accurate information, advice and support on dementia is important in these difficult times,” he added.

Dementia is a group of brain-related diseases that can affect memory, thinking, behaviour and feelings.

The majority of about 2,000 people suffering from dementia are undiagnosed in Brunei, while another 1,200 people have Alzheimer’s disease, according to health ministry figures.

A type of dementia, Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease that accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said a 2015 Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleh Hospital study showed that 36.8 percent of elderly patients have dementia and an additional 20 percent may have cognitive impairment that requires further evaluation before diagnosis.

The high rate of non-communicable diseases in Brunei has also led to an increase in number of vascular dementia patients, he added.

Dementia can affect younger people

The minister said dementia can happen to anyone regardless of age.

“Dementia is usually associated with elderly patients, but dementia is a disease that is not common for the elderly.”

Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, speech problems, difficulty putting things away, confused thoughts, changes in feelings and personality or withdrawal from social activities.

The minister said dementia does not only affect the patient, but on the family or caregivers, as well as the wider society.

Families and society play an important role because dementia patients will always need help in carrying out their daily activities.

“Therefore, families and communities need to be patient and more caring during this ‘new norm’ period,” he continued.

There is no specific cure for dementia, but treatment and support are available to patients and caregivers.

Overcoming stigma

Addressing this year’s World Alzheimer’s Day theme of ‘Let’s Talk About Dementia’ , YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said it is important to always talk about dementia.

“Talk about dementia symptoms so we know the signs to look out for and can get treatment early. Always be sensitive to each other in ensuring their respective circumstances,” he added.

He said the lack of awareness about dementia leads to inaccurate assumptions about its effects on patients and family members as well as negative perceptions related to dementia patients’ behaviour.

The ministry said it will ensure that dementia-related awareness and interventions will continue to be implemented at Senior Citizens Activity Centres in collaboration with non-governmental organisation Demensia Brunei.