x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Action needed now to tackle Alzheimer’s

Dementia will become a big issue as the population ages; the time to act is now.

There is a lack of research in the UAE and the region into Alzheimer’s, an illness that, according to World Health Organisation estimates, will increase in prevalence by up to 125 per cent by 2050. As The National reported this weekend, there is much to be done in the country to address the issue.

First, there is a need for more study into the disease. None of the UAE health authorities has publicly released figures on the number of people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, and there are no associations or advocacy groups that collect data. This may not be perceived as an issue now, but this will not be the case in 40 or 50 years when, according to the Ministry of Health, the number of people in the UAE aged over 60 will increase from 4 per cent to 20 per cent of the population. It should be expected that dementia and other age-related illnesses will significant increase as the population grows older.

Not only do health authorities need to be prepared, so do caregivers and families of those at risk of acquiring Alzheimer’s. Many people are not even aware of the disease – or they believe it to be normal memory loss associated with getting old – and this could leave patients at risk of neglect or even abuse. Many of those who are aware of the disease don’t talk about it because of the stigma attached to it.

A pilot study indicated that only 12 per cent of people with Alzheimer’s are receiving treatment, according to Dr Mohammed Gamil Elnoamani, a senior geriatrician and head of medical affairs at Dubai’s Family Gathering Centre. This highlights the importance of public-awareness campaigns and specialised care centres.

However, there are some initiatives that should be emulated throughout the country. For example, Dubai Health Authority has launched a monthly Friends of Alzheimer’s support group for caregivers of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients under the supervision of the Dubai Family Gathering Centre. The programme aims to teach caregivers how to look after patients and handle their behaviour. There is also a 24-hour helpline to answer questions and address public concerns.

Such schemes are key to fighting the stigma and tackling discrimination against people with Alzheimer’s. The more awareness people have, the fewer people will suffer. With the UAE’s ageing population, it is clear that we have to do more now before it is too late.