The World Alzheimer Report 2016

Today's guest blog is by Marc Wortmann, Executive Director of Alzheimer's Disease International.

World Alzheimer’s Month is the global awareness month for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, coordinated by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), the federation of all Alzheimer associations worldwide. In 2015 we decided on a theme for three years: Remember Me. This year we encourage people to share (yellow) sticky notes with a message for World Alzheimer’s Month. These will be shared daily on social media.  

The website www.worldalzmonth.org was launched at the end of July with the functionality to submit a picture and message online, and see messages that other people have shared. A photo collage will be made of all messages for World Alzheimer’s Day. You can also download posters and other materials from this website and post announcements or photos of activities on your country page. Images and messages shared on social media need to use the hashtags #RememberMe #WAM2016.

Though the campaign is global, implementation happens locally in countries, regions, cities and towns, as well as within organisations and companies. I estimate that there might be around 3,000 different activities this month in all parts of the world, probably engaging 300,000 people worldwide. But we will only get an overview after September, when we receive reports from the member associations. These activities consist of memory walks, public lectures, panel discussions, launch of reports, concerts, fundraisers, plays or even boat-trips. Organisers are most of all local or regional chapters of Alzheimer associations, but also nursing homes, memory clinics and other health care services. There is also a growing number of corporations taking part, either internally for their staff or with external-facing activities.

There is momentum in the world in general and in Europe more specifically to develop national Alzheimer or dementia plans. We have seen such plans in early adopter countries like France, The Netherlands, Scotland and England, followed by other parts of the UK, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Malta and most recently Czech Republic, Slovenia and Greece and a few more countries have a plan in the pipeline.

Many of these plans have in common that they touch on the importance of awareness raising, training of the dementia workforce, stimulating timely diagnosis, support for family caregivers, improving dementia care and enhancing research efforts with public funding.

To be effective these plans need to have budgets allocated and a mechanism to monitor progress, evaluate outcomes and improve policies. Some countries have organised this very well, like France with its 2008-2012 plan. In countries that have followed up with second and third plans more recently, for instance Scotland and The Netherlands, but also Japan, the focus was narrower and on a few key issues, to ensure these are delivered well.

Do these plans make our health systems respond better to the dementia challenge? I’m afraid not enough yet and more needs to be done. This is the main topic of the World Alzheimer Report 2016 that advocates for a holistic and integrated approach by looking at dementia care pathways. These pathways are already commonplace in other chronic disease areas like cancer or stroke, but not yet in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The report studies these pathways in seven countries from around the world: Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Switzerland, China, South Korea and Indonesia. It recommends a more integrated approach with increased levels of diagnosis and follow-up on treatment and care that should mostly be done at the primary health care level. In some of the countries this would save 40% of the current cost which means that more people can be supported within existing budgets.

We hope to stimulate the debate with this report and improve our health systems’ response to the many new cases of dementia in our ageing societies. 

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