A Long Awaited Commitment to Tackling Dementia

This post was written by Assumpta Nantume, Communications Associate at Global Health Council.

At the 70th World Health Assembly in May this year, member states and delegates endorsed a Global Action Plan on the Public Health Response to Dementia. This pivotal moment followed 10 years of continued conversation, advocacy, and calls for commitment from civil society for the World Health Organization (WHO) to increase recognition of the extensive scale of dementia and the need for immediate collective action.

Dementia poses an overwhelming social and economic burden on individuals, their families, and society at large. Moreover, 58% of people living with dementia live in low- and middle-income countries where access to social protection, mental health services, support, and care are very limited.

An older married couple in Guiguinto, Philippines. © 2015 erickaustria, Courtesy of Photoshare

This situation is further complicated by the poor understanding of mental illness across cultures. Dementia has long been viewed as a natural process of aging, and in poorer communities, it is rarely acknowledged as a serious health concern even when day-to-day tasks become a challenge to the affected individual. In the developed world too, families and caretakers often wait too long before seeking medical advice once a loved one begins presenting with early symptoms like memory loss.

It is also estimated that nearly three-quarters of global dementia cases are undiagnosed; therefore, patients do not have access to the treatment, care, and support that they need. There are several interventions that can be used to delay or slow down the progression of dementia once an individual has been diagnosed – an opportunity that is often lost by either neglecting or not being able to access timely care.

This why the adoption of the Global Action Plan on the Public Health Response to Dementia is such a crucial step in protecting the world’s rapidly aging population and enabling senior citizens worldwide to live a more comfortable and dignified life.

One of the key objectives laid out in the public health response is to promote awareness and close the knowledge gap on dementia in communities where the subject of mental illness is still largely taboo. The global plan also aims to spur action by governments to obtain better data on their population needs, and thereby invest in much-needed infrastructure, programs, and interventions to provide appropriate care for the elderly.

While these new gains and commitments are very promising, civil society must continue to advocate tirelessly for the health and welfare of our senior citizens, and collaborate further to cement this progress. The Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA), a champion of global action on dementia, has been a key mobilizer and convener of civil society during the consultation on the draft global action plan, ensuring that our voices and perspectives are included.

By 2050, the world’s population over the age of 60 is projected to make up 22% of the global population. Dementia can no longer be sidelined as a non-urgent priority. We need robust investments to cut down on the years lost and exorbitant economic cost incurred due to the disability dementia imparts on individuals.