World Alzheimer’s Day: encouraging action and challenging stigma

Yesterday (September 21st) was World Alzheimer’s Day. I confess that I didn’t see it coming. I now know too that the month of September was (and still is as I write this) World Alzheimer’s month, part of a campaign to raise awareness and challenge stigma. In fact this year was the fourth time there has been a whole month devoted to Alzheimer’s action (did you know that?) There was certainly some striking press coverage and I learned more personally. For instance, I found two reports that I hadn’t previously come across.

The first is the Office of Health Economics Report, commissioned by Alzheimer’s Research UK, called The Trajectory of Dementia in the UK – Making a Difference. The key findings of this report focus on what will happen with the increasing population of older people if we don’t find ways to prevent or cure dementia. It estimates the cost in terms of numbers of people living with dementia, economics, costs to informal carers, and poor quality of life, and looks at how the trajectory of dementia could change if new treatments become available.

The second report is the World Alzheimer Report 2015: The Global Impact of Dementia, and this looks at the global costs of dementia, and numbers of people affected across the world. Did you know that nearly 60% of people living with dementia live in low and middle income countries? People often think of dementia as being a condition that affects affluent countries, so this may come as a surprise. But there is no doubt that dementia is a global issue.The British press (see for example the Guardian or the Independent) picked up on Alzheimer’s Research UK’s prediction that one-third of British people born in 2015 will develop dementia if things don’t change, and the call for more research funding and more research. This may be a success for awareness, but I’m not sure whether it’s a step forward in challenging stigma. I worry that scary figures may feed pessimism and helplessness rather than resolve. How do we encourage action and challenge prejudice?

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