Saint Lucia could be facing a crisis in providing care for its elderly citizens suffering from dementia, but is not doing enough to prepare to meet this challenge. This was the message given at the conference organised by Saint Lucia’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Association (SLADA) and Age Caribbean, held on Saturday 17th June.
The conference was aimed at giving health care professionals and carers a better understanding of the world of individuals afflicted with dementia and providing advice and support to those delivering day-to-day care to sufferers of the disease.
Dr James Bratt, geriatric psychiatrist from Age Caribbean, defined dementia as ‘a disease of the brain marked by a change in brain function serious enough to interfere with day-to-day life.’ There is no cure for the disease, but therapies and medication are available to help slow down its progression and improve the sufferer’s quality of life. Dr. Bratt outlined some of the different types of dementia, how to detect its early signs, the process of diagnosis, treatment and the different stages of the disease.
Nurse, Regina Posvar, from (SLADA), delivered an interactive session, addressing issues such as communicating and interacting with dementia sufferers, managing difficult behavior and devising activities to help stimulate them.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) approximately 47 million people world-wide suffer from dementia and there are at least 9.9 million new cases each year. It is projected that the total number of dementia sufferers will be close to 75 million by 2030. This will almost triple by 2050. Most of the increase will come from those living in low and middle-income countries, such as St Lucia.
The WHO report (2012) ‘Dementia, a public health priority’, states that governments must take immediate action. Dementia must be made a national public health and social care priority. Public and professional attitudes to and understanding of dementia must be addressed. There is a need for investment in health and social systems to improve care and services for people with dementia and their caregivers.
Dr Bratt pointed out that preventative work, such as reducing incidences of strokes and diabetes, could make a good contribution to keeping the number of dementia sufferers down.
People can live for a long time with dementia and this can be very demanding on family members, who are usually trying to take care of them with little or no support from government.
Nurse Posvar said that before the turn of the century, women were having approximately 5-6 children and about two of them would stay and be able to care for an older parent. This average has been reduced , so now older parents are likely to be without family support. The anticipated increase in the incidence of Alzheimer’s and related dementia combined with the decrease in family size is likely to have a devastating effect on countries like St Lucia.
The significant rise in dementia sufferers is a global issue, which, according to Nurse Posvar, “…our region has not taken seriously enough. It is imperative that a plan of action is put in place to address the health care of older people and for this to include a specific plan of action for dementia.”
According to the CIA World Fact Book, between 2010 and 2016 the number of people in St Lucia aged 65 and over increased by 25%. In order to avert the coming crisis, governments should act now and not ignore the warning signs. The ministries and organisations concerned with the welfare of older people need to come together to devise awareness raising campaigns so that people can learn more about dementia, including how to detect early signs of the disease. Policies and plans need to be put in place, relevant professionals and carers need to be trained so that the country can become ‘dementia ready’ and dementia sufferers and their carers can get the support they need.
(By Steffanie Edward)
Note: Steffanie Edward is a creative writer and freelance journalist. She was Literary Editor for the New Black Magazine and has written for ‘The Voice’ newspaper in the UK. She blogs at: http://www.saedward.com/sa-ka-fegravet-my-blog