Based on my own observations, I've been saying for quite a while that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are a tsunami that potentially will engulf the world’s resources. I never crunched the numbers, but just seeing the demographic trends and watching what happened in my own family when my grandmother was diagnosed with dementia in the late 1970s and then my mother was diagnosed in 2005.
My gut instinct has just received some validation by international leaders in the form of a new report, Dementia: A Public Health Priority, which just has been published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Alzheimer’s disease International (ADI). “Current estimates indicate 35.6 million people worldwide are living with dementia,” Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, writes in the report’s introduction. “This number will double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. Dementia doesn’t just affect individuals. It also affects and changes the lives of family members. Dementia is a costly condition in its social, economic, and health dimensions. Nearly 60% of the burden of dementia is concentrated in low- and middle-income countries and this is likely to increase in coming years.” CBS News reported that it is estimated that the share of cases in poor and middle-income countries is projected to increase to more than 70% by 2050.
The WHO/ADI report’s purpose is to raise awareness about dementia as a global public health priority.
So here are five takeaways from the report about the toll that dementia is taking across the globe:
- Caregiving cost allocations differ by country. The current annual cost of caring for people with dementia is estimated to be $604 billion. The report notes that the costs in high-income countries are distributed among informal care through unpaid care provided by families (45%), formal social care (40%) and direct medical costs (15%). However, in low-income ad lower-middle-income countries, informal care costs predominate while social care costs are much lower.
- Many governments face challenges in responding to growing number of people with dementia. The report calls for governments to develop a stand-alone policy or plan, or the integration of an approach to deal with Alzheimer’s issues into existing policies and plans. WHO and ADI believe the priority areas of action include raising awareness, timely diagnosis, commitment to good quality continuing care and services, caregiver support, workforce training, prevention and research. The report also points out that people with dementia and their families often suffer a significant financial impact due to the cost of providing care and the reduction/loss of income. Governments also need to develop and improve services for people with dementia. CBS News notes that only eight countries (including Britain, France and Japan) have national dementia programs while several others (including the United States) have state-level plans.
- Support is needed for informal care and caregivers. Caregivers face physical, emotion and economic strains when caring for someone with dementia. While a range of programs and services are offered in high-income families, countries with low- to middle-income families often lack the scaled-up programs that can serve a larger portion of the population. Additionally, barriers exist that make it difficult to access these services, including lack of awareness, stigmatization of using the services, previous poor experiences, and cultural, language and financial barriers to accessing services. “Support is needed to enable informal caregivers to be able to continue in their role for as long as possible,” the report states. “Support includes information to aid understanding, skills to assist in caring, respite to enable engagement in other activities, and financial support.”
- Governments should encourage formal recognition of the rights of people with dementia and their caregivers. “Fundamental to upholding a person’s rights is the recognition of capacity in persons with dementia,” the report stated. “Where capacity is impaired due to dementia, legal provisions should recognize and protect the right to appropriate autonomy and self-determination including substitute or supported decision-making and procedures for implementing advance directives.”
- Awareness of dementia is lacking. The report notes that there is generally a lack of understanding about dementia, causing fears and stigmatization that can lead to the social isolation of people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Thus, these people may not get the level of support that they need and that is available.
Primary source for this sharepost:
World Health Organization and Alzheimer’s Disease International. (April 11, 2011). Dementia: A Public Health Priority.