Low prevalence of Alzheimer’s among Indians

This post comes to us curtsy of Stanford University’s Geriatrics department. It is about how the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is low in India and some reasons why this may be. One of the possible reasons discussed is relating to diet, and particularly to their use of Curcumin – one of the main ingredients in the spice Turmeric, which is used in many curry dishes (a spice known for anti-inflammatory effects). If you want to read more on this, check out my post on Curry helping the brain repair itself (også på dansk her).


According to recent studies conducted in Indians, the prevalence of dementia is lower compared to that of developed nations. These studies show that prevalence of dementia varies in different region of the country:

in urban regions it varied from 18 per 1000(1.8%) (Vas et al, 2001) to 33.6 per 1000 (3.36%) (Shaji, 2005)

in rural areas it was found to be 1.36% to 3.5%. The predominant type of dementia prevalent is dementia of Alzheimer’s type, and the next being vascular dementia.

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is very low in India, but the predilection to diabetes and coronary artery disease increases the risk of multi-infarct dementia.

Lower Prevalence of Dementia in Asian Indians

The overall prevalence of dementia in developed countries has been reported to be between 5% and 10% after 60 or 65 years and older (Biswas A, Chakraborty D, Dutt A, et al 2005). In contrast, the reported prevalence of dementia in Indian elders is much lower (Shaji S, Bose S, Verghese A., 2005).

Lower life expectancies, under diagnosis, false negatives are thought to be contributing reasons. However, it cannot be denied that the decreased prevalence could also be due to decreased genetic risks and also possible dietary and environmental factors.

[photo] image of tumeric

Curcumin and Dementia in Indians

Recent research has focused on the possible protective effects of curcumin in dementia. Curcumin (Diferuloylmethane) is the active ingredient found in turmeric, a key ingredient in Indian curry (see the photo on the next page). Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties and is thought to suppress oxidative damage, inflammation, cognitive deficits, and amyloid accumulation in the aging brain, thus serving as a protective factor in dementia (Yang F, Lim GP, Begum, 2004).

Assessment of Dementia

Culturally sensitive interviews of the patient and family member and clinical assessment are the most important diagnostic tools for dementia. A comprehensive history and physical examination with special attention to the onset and rate of progress of cognitive problems, a laboratory evaluation to rule out hypothyroidism (TSH), syphilis (VDRL), B12 deficiency are recommended. Brain imaging studies should be considered in patients if:

  • 1. dementia onset occurs at an age below 65 years;
  • 2. presence of focal neurologic deficits and
  • 3. the clinical picture suggests normal-pressure hydrocephalus (triad of onset has occurred within 1 year, gait disorder and unexplained incontinence).

Disclosure of Diagnosis

Once the health care professional has made the diagnosis of dementia, it is of critical importance to disclose the news about the diagnosis in a culturally competent and compassionate manner. As in many other Eastern cultures, the autonomy unit of an Asian Indian family many consist of the patient and one or more key family members. Acculturated elders who have embraced (American) main stream values may prefer to make their own decisions.

Others may still defer to key family members to make all health care decisions for them. In certain cases, families may request that the patient not be told of the diagnosis of dementia. In such cases, the health professional should first check in with the patient and ascertain their wishes.

For example saying “Mrs. Reddy, I understand that you would prefer that I not discuss your illness with you and that you would prefer to have your husband/ son/daughter make health care decisions for you. Is this true?” … “Ok, I will have further discussions with your husband/son/daughter. But if you ever need any information about your health status or have any questions, please feel free to ask me.”

Management of Dementia

At present, there is no curative therapy for dementia. Thus, the primary treatment goals for patients with dementia are to enhance and preserve quality of life and optimize functional performance by improving cognition, mood, and behavior.

• Both pharmacologic (donepezil, galantamine, rivastigmine and memantine) and nonpharmacologic treatments (light therapy, reminiscence therapy etc) should be considered.

• Choline esterase inhibitors (donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine) slow down the progress of the disease.

• Memantine, a n-methyl-d-aspartate receptor antagonist, recently approved by the FDA is indicated in moderate to severe dementia.

• In addition, modifiable risk factors like hypertension and dyslipidemia should be carefully treated.

• Co-morbid conditions like coronary vascular disease and diabetes should be carefully managed

• Establishing a therapeutic alliance with both the patient and the family fosters an ongoing trusting relationship and facilitates management.

• Proactive education of the patient (in the early stages of dementia) and caregiver are helpful.


2 thoughts on “Low prevalence of Alzheimer’s among Indians

  1. Yes I knew about curcumin. As a rule I never take supplements but maybe it’s worth taking it even if one hasn’t dementia because apparently it’s good for arthritis and for possibly every kind of inflammation. Besides it’s a natural ingredient. Incidentally I’ve bought it from amazon a few days ago and I will take to find out if it has any benefits or not. I usually can tell straight away if something has benefits or it’s just hype.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am interested to hear how it works for you – give me an update when you have one! I tend to put it in the food I am cooking (eggs, hot dishes, stir frys), but also take it as a supplement during certain periods (especially during colder weather when my joints tend to ache more).


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