WHO report highlights global failings in dementia support

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Support for people with dementia and their families is lacking across the globe, a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report has shown.

The WHO has released its ‘Global status report on the public health response to dementia’, revealing that only a quarter of countries worldwide have a national policy, strategy, or plan in place for supporting those affected by dementia.

The report states that half of the countries with dementia support available are in the WHO’s European Region, with the rest split across the other Regions. However, even in Europe, many of these plans are set to expire or have already expired. From these findings, experts have concluded that there is a need for renewed commitment to dementia from governments.

Dementia is a syndrome associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. Common symptoms of dementia include memory loss, a decline in cognitive speed, and problems with understanding. It is estimated that, worldwide, around 55 million people have dementia, with over 60% living in low- and middle-income countries. As the ageing population increases, the number of people with dementia is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million by 2050.

Failing people with dementia

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, said: “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.

“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.”

According to the World Health Organization, the findings highlight an urgent need to strengthen support at a national level, both in terms of care for people with dementia and for those who provide care, whether in a professional or informational setting.

The type of care required for people with dementia includes primary healthcare, specialist care, community-based services, rehabilitation, long-term care, and palliative care. Although 89% of countries that reported to WHO’s Global Dementia Observatory said they provide some community-based services for dementia, provision is higher in high-income countries compared to low- and middle-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 of 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%). In higher-income countries, informal and social care costs each amount to approximately 40%.

New initiative for dementia research

The WHO attributes a series of unsuccessful clinical trials for treatments for dementia, combined with the high costs of research and development, to the decline in 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.

Dr Tarun Dua, Head of the Brain Health Unit at WHO, said: “To have a better chance of success, dementia research efforts need to have a clear direction and be better coordinated.

“This is why WHO is developing the Dementia Research Blueprint, a global coordination mechanism to provide structure to research efforts and stimulate new initiatives.

”An important focus of future research efforts should be the inclusion of people with dementia and their carers and families. Currently, two-thirds of countries reporting to the Global Dementia Observatory involve people with dementia ‘rarely’ or not at all.”

Progress in raising awareness

In a more positive finding, the report showed that countries in all regions have made progress in implementing public awareness campaigns to improve public understanding of dementia. Two-thirds of countries reporting to the Observatory have run awareness-raising campaigns, with two-thirds also taking action to improve the accessibility of physical and social environments for people with dementia and to provide training and education to population groups outside of the health and social care sector.


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