New regional strategy seeks to mitigate the impact of dementias through measures to improve care, prevent functional decline and dependency.

Washington, D.C., 1 October 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — Health leaders from throughout the Americas pledged to take new action to mitigate the impact of a dramatic increase over the next 20 years in dementias in older people in the region.

The actions are spelled out in a new plan adopted by health ministers from the Americas that seeks to improve and expand care for older persons with dementias, prevent or delay their functional decline and dependence, and increase research in this area. The plan—the first of its kind for any World Health Organization (WHO) region—was approved by ministers of health at the 54th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

"Now is the time to advance better ways to care for our oldest citizens and help them remain independent as long as possible," said Cuauhtémoc Ruiz, director of PAHO's Family, Gender and Life Course Department. "We need to ensure we have the programs in place to make life better now and in the future, not only for those with dementias but for family members who devote themselves to their care."

An estimated 6.5% to 8.5% of adults over 60 in the Americas have dementias of one kind or another, and if current trends continue the number of people with these conditions is expected to nearly double in the region over the next 20 years, from 7.8 million in 2010 to 14.8 million in 2030. The fastest increase will be in Latin America and the Caribbean, going from 3.4 million in 2010 to 7.6 million in 2030, surpassing the projected 7.1 million people with dementias in the United States and Canada.

With these rising numbers come rising costs. In 2010, the estimated cost of treating and caring for people with dementias was $604 billion worldwide and $235.8 billion in the Americas, much of that borne by families.

Most people with dementias in the Americas are cared for at home, leading to higher death rates among not just the older persons but also their overstrained caregivers. Many countries in the region do not have adequate long-term care facilities for the elderly, nor the resources to build more.

"Dementias are a complex issue that requires coordinated action to be effectively addressed," said Enrique Vega, regional advisor on aging and health at PAHO/WHO. "We need leaders across many sectors to work together to identify new ways of adapting current health systems to the needs of older persons who have dementias or are at risk of them, and addressing the needs of their families and caregivers."

The new strategy and plan for tackling dementias, approved by PAHO's 54th Directing Council, calls for greater investments in long-term care, more research on the needs of people suffering from dementia, and new evidence-based models for improving treatment and care.

Among specific actions, the plan proposes that countries work over the next five years to:

  • Strengthen health services and community-based networks throughout the region to allow older persons to stay in their homes and communities, without sacrificing their health or that of those who care for them.
  • Promote the development of long-term health care facilities for older persons whose dementia is too far advanced for quality care at home.
  • Strengthen the capacity of health systems to promote healthy lifestyles to prevent health conditions that research has shown can lead to dementias, such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking and obesity.
  • Train health-care professionals better in the care and treatment of people with dementias, from the undergraduate level through medical school and continuing education.
  • Ramp up basic, clinical, epidemiological and social research into the causes of dementias to learn how to better prevent, manage and care for these conditions.
  • Establish legal protections to protect the human rights of people with dementias, and take action to promote better understanding of these conditions and reduce stigma and stereotypes.

The strategy follows a declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) this past January that dementias are a public health priority meriting global action. It also follows discussions with health authorities throughout the Americas that produced a mandate to focus on the health of older people.


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