World Alzheimer’s Day: Beware the coming danger of dementia

Today is the 10th World Alzheimer’s Day — part of World Alzheimer’s month — when the visionary people in Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) summon the rest of us to raise our awareness of dementia.

We ignore them at our certain peril.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia that tends to present as acute memory loss and impairment of other essential cognitive abilities, frequently serious enough to interfere with an individual’s quality of daily life.

ADI says that from previous studies it has become evident that an average of two out of three people globally have little or no understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementia in their countries.

Not unusually, young people frequently pay little to no attention to what will happen to them in old age, and so make little to no provisions for the time when their health and productive years may disappear.

Under the theme ‘Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer’s’, ADI is waging an international campaign, hoping to reverse widespread ignorance, raise awareness about dementia, and challenge the stigma which is attached to the condition.

Around five to eight per cent of the world’s people over the age of 60 are afflicted with various forms of dementia. In a new and alarming report, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the number of people living with dementia was expected to explode from approximately 50 million in 2019 to 152 million by 2050.

During that same period, the number of Jamaicans over 60 years of age — the fastest growing segment of the population — was projected to double, according to a Green Paper for the National Policy for Senior Citizens (2018).

The pain of dementia cannot be exaggerated. Those who have watched previously robust and highly productive parents dwindle before their very eyes, to the point of complete non-recognition of members of their families, know too well this trauma.

Besides the emotional toll, the disease inflicts a heavy economic burden on societies as a whole, with the cost of caring for people with dementia expected to rise from an estimated US$818 billion in 2015 to US$2 trillion by 2030, the WHO report said.

Where Jamaica is concerned, the writing is already on the wall.

In 2015, the number of people 60 years and older was 341,200, or 12.6 per cent of the overall population. While the percentage increase in the total population between 2001 and 2011 was 3.5 per cent, the elderly grew by approximately 15.3 per cent over that period.

Some more than 31.8 per cent of households today have at least one member who is 60 years or older. Of all households, 69.1 per cent had a head who was 60 years or older, according to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ).

For its part, WHO said that in the next 30 years the number of people with dementia is expected to triple, with the largest increase coming in low- and middle-income countries like Jamaica, where overall population growth is the highest.

If we cannot completely avoid dementia, our best bet is to adopt a lifestyle that at least slows it down. We have been duly warned to ‘tek sleep mark death’.