Speech Mark Rutte at the international Defeating Dementia conference at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag
Ladies and gentlemen,
Someone once told me: when you’re diagnosed with dementia, the worst thing is the absence of hope.
From that moment on, you know that things are only going to get worse.
You’ve already started to say goodbye.
And there’s nothing you can do about it.
All of you here today understand that only too well.
When we hear about dementia, it’s tempting to pretend it doesn’t affect us.
Or our families and friends.
And yet, right now, dementia is a daily reality for 55 million people around the world.
A big number, which will only grow bigger in the future.
So it can affect us.
Or our loved ones.
It’s a reality we must face up to.
At the same time, I realise that it’s precisely this reality which motivates you all to keep doing your best, day in and day out.
Whether you’re a doctor, a nurse or a researcher.
A family member, a friend, an unpaid carer.
Or even a policymaker, a government minister or a civil servant.
Because behind that shocking figure – 55 million dementia patients – there are at least as many personal stories of human suffering.
Anyone who’s seen dementia up close knows what I’m talking about.
It’s not just the patient who suffers.
It’s everyone around them too.
How do you respond when your father says he has to get to school?
What do you say when your mother asks for her mother?
What do you say when, in a brief moment of clarity, your loved one understands the true gravity of the illness they face?
These are moments that make us feel powerless.
And that’s why it’s so good that this conference is taking place.
It’s a defiant response to feeling powerless.
An expression of faith in the future.
It’s the best medicine for dementia, until we actually have a medicine.
Because, of course, that’s what everyone wants.
And it’s great to see all the hard work that’s being done, in both prevention and treatment.
Not to mention new technologies that can improve the lives of people living with this disease.
But we also know that the fight against dementia will be a long one.
So our society has to learn to live with this disease.
Because dementia patients are part of our society.
We need more than just medicines and resources.
We need to make sure that these patients have a proper place in our society.
To help them participate.
To look at what is possible.
Above all, we need to see the person beyond the patient.
And continue to see them.
Even if the disease obscures your view of the person you love.
Especially if it obscures your view of the person you love.
Teun Toebes said it already today, and I believe it’s worth repeating:
The person you knew is still there, beneath the dementia.
A person like you and me.
But of course, you don’t need me to tell you that.
It’s no accident that the theme of this afternoon’s programme was ‘living with dementia’.
Because although the clinical figures, diagrams and statistics give us crucial insights, it’s the personal stories that give a human face to this disease, and underline the urgency of finding answers.
Those stories are a powerful way of getting this issue high on the agenda.
And keeping it there.
I’m pleased that, today, we’re able to take a new step in that direction.
By adopting a joint governmental statement, we are laying down our commitments for the future.
At both national and international level.
The people who suffer from this cruel disease forget the things they once cared about most.
We owe it to them to remember their plight.