WHO recognises dementia as a public health priority. “Nearly 10 million people develop dementia each year, 6 million of them in low- and middle-income countries,” says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “The suffering that results is enormous. This is an alarm call: we must pay greater attention to this growing challenge and ensure that all people living with dementia, wherever they live, get the care that they need.”
First global monitoring system launched
The Global Dementia Observatory, a web-based platform launched by WHO today, will track progress on the provision of services for people with dementia and for those who care for them, both within countries and globally. It will monitor the presence of national policy and plans, risk reduction measures and infrastructure for providing care and treatment. Information on surveillance systems and disease burden data is also included.
“This is the first global monitoring system for dementia that includes such a comprehensive range of data,” said Dr Tarun Dua, of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “The system will not only enable us to track progress, but just as importantly, to identify areas where future efforts are most needed.”
Encouraging results in planning for dementia and support for carers
To date, WHO has collected data from 21 countries (1) of all income levels. By the end of 2018, it is expected that 50 countries will be contributing data.
Initial results indicate that a high proportion of countries submitting data are already taking action in areas such as planning, dementia awareness and dementia-friendliness (such as facilitating participation in community activities and tackling the stigmatisation of people living with dementia) and provision of support and training for carers, who are very often family members.
Of the countries reporting data so far:
- 81% have carried out a dementia awareness or risk reduction campaign
- 71% have a plan for dementia
- 71% provide support and training for carers
- 66% have a dementia-friendly initiative.
All of these activities are recommended by WHO in the Global action plan on the public health response to dementia 2017-2025. The Plan provides a comprehensive blueprint for action, in areas including: dementia awareness and dementia-friendliness; reducing the risk of dementia; diagnosis, treatment and care; research and innovation; and support for dementia carers. It suggests concrete actions that can be taken by policy-makers, health- and social-care providers, civil society organizations and people with dementia and their careers. The Plan has been developed with attention to the importance of respecting the human rights of people with dementia and engaging them in planning for their care. Targets against which progress can be measured are included.
Dementia is an umbrella term for several diseases that are mostly chronic and progressive, affecting memory, other cognitive abilities and behaviour and interfering significantly with a person’s ability to maintain the activities of daily living. Women are more often affected than men. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60–70% of cases. The other common types are vascular dementia and mixed forms. Dementia has a physical, psychological, social, and economical impact, not only on people with dementia, but also on their carers, families and society at large.
Signs and symptoms
Dementia affects each person in a different way, depending upon the impact of the disease and the person’s personality before becoming ill. The signs and symptoms linked to dementia can be understood in three stages.
Early stage: the early stage of dementia is often overlooked, because the onset is gradual. Common symptoms include:
- losing track of the time
- becoming lost in familiar places.
Middle stage: as dementia progresses to the middle stage, the signs and symptoms become clearer and more restricting. These include:
- becoming forgetful of recent events and people’s names
- becoming lost at home
- having increasing difficulty with communication
- needing help with personal care
- experiencing behaviour changes, including wandering and repeated questioning.
Late stage: the late stage of dementia is one of near total dependence and inactivity. Memory disturbances are serious and the physical signs and symptoms become more obvious. Symptoms include:
- becoming unaware of the time and place
- having difficulty recognizing relatives and friends
- having an increasing need for assisted self-care
- having difficulty walking
- experiencing behaviour changes that may escalate and include aggression