The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging recently released a report examining how five nations with developed economies are approaching the growing numbers of aging adults with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, within their borders. The nations studied are the United States, Australia, France, Japan and Britain. Each of these five countries now has a strategy for fighting the devastating effects of dementia.
A blog post on the New York Times New Old Age Blog points out that France began addressing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in 2001 and is now carrying out its third national Alzheimer’s plan. In the United States, the first national plan was launched last May when President Obama signed into law the National Alzheimer's Project Act (NAPA).
According to the article, the U.S. is behind the other four nations in most of the categories for providing care for our loved ones with Alzheimer’s. This includes funding for facility care, funding to care for people with Alzheimer’s in their own homes, and funding for family caregivers to help their loved ones.
The Mayo Clinic blog followed up on the senate report with an article that identifies ways our nation needs to change the way we view people with dementia and the need for their day to day care.
“…perhaps a more urgent priority[than research] ought to be on addressing and improving the day to day lives of those impacted by the disease. If effective plans aren't identified and implemented soon — plans that support people living with dementia and all of those impacted — we're facing devastating societal consequences.”
The article does not imply that research into drugs and therapies to end Alzheimer’s shouldn’t be a priority. Obviously, in the long-term, preventing or reversing Alzheimer’s is the goal. The article is simply stating that we have many people with the disease who need help and understanding right now, so that kind of support should also be a top priority.
Educating the public needs to be part of the plan
On numerous occasions, I’ve written about the stigma that Alzheimer’s and other dementia still carry. I hear from scores of people asking me how they can convince their loved one to go to the doctor for dementia testing. These same people will say that their parent or grandparent will not hesitate to see a doctor if they suffer from another illness. Yet, they will refuse to be checked for dementia.
Even younger people who have had a little more exposure to the facts about Alzheimer’s disease often find that they avoid visiting friends who have a close family member with dementia. They don’t know what to say or how to act, so they choose avoidance.
Along with all of the necessary studies to develop drugs and treatments for dementia, we need to educate people from childhood on up about Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Education can help the general public understand that people with dementia are people first. Their disease comes second. Most of us are capable, with some education, of giving compassionate attention to people affected by these diseases, as well as support to their families.