KARACHI: A new research report by the Health and Nutrition Development Society (HANDS) has highlighted the need for greater awareness about dementia, more effective support services and greater cultural understanding. Led by the University of Southampton, the team of international researchers conducted a study to identify people’s beliefs and attitudes towards dementia and develop the best policies to help those living with the disease in the country. Principal Investigator Professor Asghar Zaidi of the University of Southampton commented: “Dementia is a global health priority, but progress towards its understanding and treatment in low and middle-income countries has been slow, despite rapidly ageing populations. We hope our report will inform policymakers in Pakistan and across South Asia – helping to improve the lives of people with the disease and their caregivers.” Working in collaboration with Brighton and Sussex Medical School, The AGA Khan University and the charities Age International, HANDS and Alzheimer’s Pakistan, the researchers conducted a series of interviews with people living with dementia and their caregivers, and focus groups with members of the general public. They also carried out semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, such as practitioners and policymakers. One of the most striking findings in the report is the lack of awareness of dementia and its symptoms. Respondents attributed the disease to a range of factors, such as getting old, doing too much, stress, shock, social isolation and in more extreme cases, black magic. These misconceptions led to misunderstandings about care and prognosis. Perhaps most concerning is a strong stigma associated with the disease, or generally with any other mental health problems. An important finding is that persons with dementia mentioned their loss of sense of time of day and how this impacts on their ability to know when to pray. Timing of daily prayers is very important in Islam and this symptom can be quite challenging for Muslim patients and their family caregivers. In addition, a loss of sense of orientation can make it difficult to lay prayer mats correctly. The religiosity in Pakistan’s culture places, great emphasis on praying and closeness to God as one gets older. This means it can be difficult for people with dementia to meet these societal expectations. Published in Daily Times, April 25th 2018.