As World Alzheimer's Month comes to a close, I want to reflect on some very real revelations that have emerged over the past few weeks, as well as highlight the need to shift our attention to the dementia family carer.
The 2013 World Alzheimer's Report has painted a very detailed picture of the future regarding elderly care and dementia. Not only concerning those that have or will develop dementia, but of families, friends and caregivers alike. Over 35million people currently live with dementia globally, but with this figure predicted to more than triple by 2050, it's likely that many of us will be affected by the condition, whether directly or as a carer.
As the chief medical officer of a global healthcare company, I am passionate about how we can improve the health and wellbeing of millions. But this report has reached me in a different way. The conversations I've had surrounding it, the comments I've received because of it, and the very real statistics that are there - black and white on the page - have confirmed the true reality that we face. And to be honest, the scale of it is hard to get your head around.
According to the report, between 2010 and 2050, the total number of older people with care needs will nearly treble from 101 to 277million. As well as on those who have dementia, a prime focus for the future should be on the caregiver. Effective support, training and education is key to maintaining the mental and physical health needs of the caregiver. An extraordinary group of people that often don't get the recognition or support they deserve.
Caring for a loved one with dementia is not easy. I've had countless interaction and conversations with carers over the years. At times, it can be challenging, tiring and upsetting. They carry out difficult and demanding roles, often with minimal training or preparation. They are also paid nothing and usually have to give up any paid work to dedicate their time to a loved one with dementia.
Many people believe that those with dementia would rather stay at home for as long as possible, before the condition reaches such an advanced stage that professional help is needed. Families also often want to keep loved ones closer to them for as long as possible. By shifting our attention to the caregiver, offering more training, support and respite, carers will be able to provide better quality of care, as well as improve their own quality of life.
Dementia is one of the biggest global public health challenges of our generation. It can no longer be ignored. Governments and health systems across the world need to create and build action plans to support caregivers within the family home. More recognition and incentives are needed for those who give up so much yet often get little back.