Disasters May Contribute To Dementia

Disasters May Contribute To Dementia

Research fellow from Harvard University’s School of Public Health, Hiroyuki Hikichi reports from a study he authored, that dementia may raise due to natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, fires.

He noted that following a disaster people mostly focused on disorders like PTSD, but his study suggests that cognitive decline is of equal importance.

The study looked at around 3,600 survivors of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011.  Each of the participants were 65 and older and the rate of dementia 1 in the control group was 4.1% before the disaster occurred and jumped to 11.5% two and a half years later.

It was discovered that people who had to evacuate their damaged or destroyed homes and had lost touch with family, friends, and neighbors were more likely to develop dementia than those that were able to remain in their homes.  In contrast, people who lost family and friends didn’t show signs of dementia.

The study was published Oct. 24, 2016 in the journal called proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A quick glance at the study’s results would suggest that disorientation sets in when seniors are in a situation of unfamiliar surroundings.  If they’ve been in the same home and area their entire lives, whim most do, then the sudden shift in environment must be throwing off their cognitive functions.  It’s probably due to the fact that people who live in the same areas and do the same things year after year, don’t have the stimulation of new things and thus when they are transported to an environment of new sounds and sights, and other sensory stimuli, they get confused and in this study’s case, dementia ensues.

It doesn’t look like there’s a way to prevent this.  What might help is to make sure seniors don’t fall into a rut.  That’s difficult to do be cause their longevity may be due in a major part with their familiarity and daily routines.  Their minds and bodies are familiar with times of the day, temperatures during the seasons, local sounds and smells.  They have a tendency to have a strict regimen of eating and sleeping and social activities by which they tell time and place.  Hit with a disaster that can overwhelm the senses and cognitive functions, the mind has to defend itself an dementia sets in either as a defense mechanism or as just a result of loss and confusion.

It might behoove people to make sure seniors get a change of pace now and then.  Of course they’ll probably protest and there’s no way to get grandma and grandpa to break their regimen and suddenly go skydiving.  It’s not going to happen.

Further studies will have to be conducted to see if the dementia subsides and the people rebound.  We’ll have to see what the best treatments are for these people and implement them.  In addition, we’ll need to be prepared for the aftermath of such events so that we’ll be better able to service seniors in case dementia sets in.  Also, does dementia set in with other cultures other than the Japanese and if not, why.

Families should be prepared for this.  Municipalities as well.  If dementia sets in, it can be frustrating and costly regarding treatments.  If we’re prepared beforehand we’ll be better able to handle the problem with alacrity and compassion.  Perhaps taking the seniors to their old homes or areas and getting them to realize that all is not lost is a help.  That as reconstruction begins they should be aware of the profess and see if their dementia subsides.  If so, it would be a good therapy to follow upon and implement in other areas.

About Dr Adam Blackwell

Adam Blackwell M.D. Author and Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU.
Dr Adam writes regularly for NBC med.

Footnotes

  1. Dementia (alz.org) What Is Dementia?