World failing to address dementia challenge: World Health Organization

Only a quarter of countries worldwide have a national policy, strategy, or plan for supporting people with dementia and their families. That is according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ‘Global status report on the public health response to dementia’ which was released earlier this month, coinciding with World Alzheimers Month. New Zealand is just one country among many that have been called out by WHO for not having an adequate national dementia plan.

The number of people living with dementia globally continues to grow. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 55 million people across the globe are living with dementia; this includes 8.1 % of women and 5.4% of men over the age of 65. By the year 2050, this number is expected to more than double to 139 million people. According to Alzheimers New Zealand, more than 70,000 Kiwis currently live with dementia; this means 80 per cent of us know or have known someone living with dementia.  

“The world is failing people with dementia, and that hurts all of us. Four years ago, governments agreed a clear set of targets to improve dementia care. But targets alone are not enough. We need concerted action to ensure that all people with dementia are able to live with the support and dignity they deserve” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

So, what can our government do to tackle this global issue? WHO’s report suggests that the following strategies need to be implemented:

Improve support for people with dementia and their carers

The report highlighted the urgent need to strengthen support at a national level, both in terms of care for people with dementia, and in support for the people who provide that care, in both formal and informal settings. Yet advocates for people living with dementia in New Zealand claim there isn’t enough government funding available to provide such support. In May this year, Alzheimers New Zealand chief executive Catherine Hall criticised the government for not providing money in the 2021 budget to support an Alzheimers action plan which would help address the lack of respite and therapeutic support needed.

Increase investment in Alzheimer’s research

New Zealand is producing some amazing dementia research, such as the great work being done at the three Dementia Prevention Clinics across the country. Of course, the more money we can invest into research, the more breakthroughs we may see as result.

“To have a better chance of success, dementia research efforts need to have a clear direction and be better coordinated,” said Dr Tarun Dua, Head of the Brain Health Unit at WHO. “This is why WHO is developing the Dementia Research Blueprint, a global coordination mechanism to provide structure to research efforts and stimulate new initiatives.” The WHO suggests that future research efforts should focus on the inclusion of people with dementia and their carers and families.

Continue with awareness raising campaigns helping with progress

On a more positive note, the report acknowledged that public awareness campaigns have helped draw attention to dementia. September is World Alzheimer’s Month; it’s the perfect opportunity to act and join thousands of other Kiwis in spreading awareness and support people living with dementia.

Alzheimers New Zealand is asking people to get active this month and Move for Dementia. Be inspired by all its great online resources (encourage your family and friends to join too), then create your fundraising page and you’re away!

Another way of raising awareness for dementia is by donning your best purple threads on World Alzheimers Day, Tuesday 21st September. On the day, you can share a photo of your purple outfits to social media – don’t forget to tag with #WearPurple and #WorldAlzMonth.

Photo credit: Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

About Mason Head

Content Creator and Publication Lead at Eldernet