World failing to address dementia challenge, warns WHO

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Only a quarter of countries worldwide have a national policy, strategy or plan for supporting people with dementia and their families, according to the WHO’s ‘Global status report on the public health response to dementia’.

Half of these countries are in WHO’s European Region, with the remainder split between the other Regions. Yet even in Europe, many plans are expiring or have already expired, indicating a need for renewed commitment from governments.

WHO estimates that more than 55 million people (8.1 per cent of women and 5.4 per cent of men over 65 years) are living with dementia. This number is estimated to rise to 78 million by 2030 and to 139 million by 2050.

Dementia is caused by a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke. It affects memory and other cognitive functions, as well as the ability to perform everyday tasks. In 2019, the global cost of dementia was estimated to be US$ 1.3 trillion. The cost is projected to increase to $1.7 trillion by 2030, or $2.8 trillion if corrected for increases in care costs.

“Dementia robs millions of people of their memories, independence and dignity, but it also robs the rest of us of the people we know and love,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation. “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.”

Care required for people with dementia includes primary health care, specialist care, community-based services, rehabilitation, long-term care, and palliative care. While most countries (89 per cent) reporting to WHO’s Global Dementia Observatory say they provide some community-based services for dementia, provision is higher in high-income countries than in low- and middle-income countries. Medication for dementia, hygiene products, assistive technologies and household adjustments are also more accessible in high-income countries, with a greater level of reimbursement, than in lower-income countries.

The type and level of services provided by the health and social care sectors also determines the level of informal care, which is primarily provided by family members. Informal care accounts for about half the global cost of dementia, while social care costs make up over a third. In low- and middle-income countries, most dementia care costs are attributable to informal care (65 per cent). In richer countries informal and social care costs each amount to approximately 40 per cent.

In 2019, carers spent on average five hours a day providing support for daily living to the person they were caring for with dementia; 70 per cent of that care was provided by women. Given the financial, social and psychological stress faced by carers, access to information, training and services, as well as social and financial support, is particularly important. Currently, 75 per cent of countries report that they offer some level of support for carers, although again, these are primarily high-income countries.

A series of unsuccessful clinical trials for treatments for dementia, combined with the high costs of research and development, led to declining interest in new efforts. There has, however, been a recent increase in dementia research funding, mainly in high-income countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The latter increased its annual investment in Alzheimer’s disease research from $631 million in 2015 to an estimated $2.8 billion in 2020.


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Written by

Deirdre Tynan

Deirdre Tynan is an award-winning journalist who enjoys bringing the best in news reporting to Spain’s largest English-language newspaper, Euro Weekly News. She has previously worked at The Mirror, Ireland on Sunday and for news agencies, media outlets and international organisations in America, Europe and Asia. A huge fan of British politics and newspapers, Deirdre is equally fascinated by the political scene in Madrid and Sevilla. She moved to Spain in 2018 and is based in Jaen.

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