There’s a joke making the rounds that the number of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers will soon outstrip older male patients with erectile dysfunction ..so much so, elderly people will be taking Viagra and not remembering what to do with the erection afterwards!
But jokes aside, WHO, in its recent news release (11 April 2012) revealed that dementia cases are set to triple by 2050 worldwide and that the problem is still largely ignored. There are 35 million people in the world with dementia and this number is set to double by 2030 and triple by 2050.
Dementia is a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday activities. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts people of any socio-economic status. Celebrities afflicted with this condition include Ronald Reagan, Rita Hayworth and Perry Como.
Treating and caring for people with dementia currently costs the world more than US$ 604 billion per year. This includes the cost of providing health and social care as well the reduction or loss of income of people with dementia and their caregivers. The important role of caregivers cannot be over-estimated because AD cannot be cured and is degenerative, so the sufferer increasingly relies on others for assistance. The role of the main caregiver is often taken by the spouse or a close relative, and is well-known to place a great burden on the care-givers.
Some facts about dementia:
- Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of ageing.
- 60% of people with dementia live in middle or low income countries.
- Early diagnosis improves the quality of life of people with dementia and their caregivers.
- Dementia is a public health priority which has long been ignored.
The WHO report points to a general lack of information and understanding about dementia. This fuels stigma, which in turn contributes to the social isolation of both the person with dementia and their caregivers, and can lead to delays in seeking diagnosis, health assistance and social support. It also recommends involving existing caregivers in designing programmes to provide better support for people with dementia and those looking after them.
Public health authorities worldwide would do well to place more emphasis on undertaking programmes to raise the level of awareness of this disease as well as implementing programmes to strengthen care and support.