Working together internationally to tackle dementia

There are 47.5 million people in the world living with dementia, and their numbers are steadily increasing. This makes a joint international response to dementia crucial. State secretary for health Martijn van Rijn has issued a joint statement with Malta and Slovakia (which form together with the Netherlands the EU Presidency Trio) on efforts to improve, intensify and diffuse dementia programmes, both within the EU and worldwide. The statement, adopted under Malta’s EU Presidency, affirms the importance of research and of improving the quality of life for people living with dementia and their loved ones.

Enlarge image Staatssecretaris Van Rijn samen met de Slowaakse en Maltese bewindslieden.
Image: ©DOI / Clodagh Farrugia O'Neill
Staatssecretaris Van Rijn samen met de Slowaakse en Maltese bewindslieden.

WHO embraces the Dutch/European approach

By issuing the joint declaration, the three countries have laid a foundation for an international response to dementia. The World Health Organization (WHO) will take this up later this month, at a meeting of the World Health Assembly where the Dutch/European approach will be discussed by non-European countries. At that meeting WHO’s Director-General will present a draft global action plan on the public health response to dementia. It calls on all WHO member states to step up their efforts to raise awareness of dementia, improve care for people living with dementia, and expand dementia research.

Challenges for the Netherlands

The Trio joint statement calls on EU member states to work with other countries on exchanging and implementing best practices. For example, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport will support the Dutch Alzheimer Society in assisting the national Alzheimer societies of Indonesia and Suriname with training of professional carers, raising awareness and further professionalising the Alzheimer societies themselves. When they are run more professionally, the Alzheimer societies will be able to carry on these activities on their own after Dutch support has ended.

In the Netherlands, an estimated 260,000 people are living with dementia. This number is expected to rise to 400,000 by 2050, not only because there will be more old people in the Netherlands, but their average age will become progressively higher. On average, people live with dementia for eight years: six years at home and two years in residential care. Alongside research and better care standards, the Dementia Delta Plan aims to create dementia-friendly communities. The campaign 'Samen Dementievriendelijk' teaches people to recognise and help people living with dementia. The campaign also targets companies and organisations.

The Netherlands still has options to improve its approach, for example by developing alternative housing options that allow people with dementia to live longer at home, either with their partner or alone. Encouraging the use of new technology can also improve the quality of life for people living with dementia, either at home or in an elderly home.

People with dementia in the community

‘We will continue to invest heavily in dementia research,’ said state secretary Van Rijn. ‘But as long as there is no cure for dementia, we need to devote the greatest possible attention to people living with it. Most people with dementia live at home, in the community. This may even be more common in other European countries. But however much situations may vary in different countries, Europeans will be in a much stronger position to cope with this terrible disease if we join forces instead of dealing with it separately in each country.’