By Yasmin Noone
Alzheimer’s disease advocacy organisations around the world must shatter negative social attitudes about dementia and challenge the perception that the condition and ageing go hand in hand.
These were the sentiments presented by Alzheimer’s Australia CEO, Glenn Rees, to a world audience when he spoke, on behalf of Australia, at the 27th International Conference of Alzheimer’s Disease International in London, last night (EST).
Mr Rees stressed the drastic need for Alzheimer’s organisations to face the social, financial, medical and political challenges currently before them and be “agents of change”.
“While my views are coloured by Australian experience I am reasonably confident that what I have to say has broader relevance,” Mr Rees said.
“I take the view that the role played by Alzheimer’s organisations has changed dramatically over the last 10 years.
“The challenges we face over the coming 10 years represent an opportunity for revolution rather than evolution in the role of Alzheimer’s organisations as agents of change.
“The change process has started in earnest in the last decade at the national and international levels.”
He commented that, over the last decade, Alzheimer’s organisations have developed a strong evidence-base of the social and economic impact of dementia and have begun to empower people with dementia to self advocate.
“…The metamorphosis of Alzheimer’s Australia has involved change from a carer organisation to one of inclusive of people with dementia; an organisation focussed on its own services to one giving a higher priority to advocacy; and from a conservative organisation shy of the media, to active use of modern social media. I see similar changes in the evolution of Alzheimer’s organisations elsewhere.
“I have come to the view that there is a need for a revolution in the way that we think about dementia and advocate for action.”
Explaining the need for an international and Australian Alzheimer’s ‘revolution’, he cited two reasons – because pervasive negative social attitudes endure towards people with dementia which lead to negative stereotyping, loss of rights, stigma and social isolation; and health policy has yet to embrace dementia as a chronic disease, and instead treats dementia as a natural part of ageing.
“I believe these two thoughts are closely linked. If there is not a positive approach to reducing the future numbers of people with dementia and a belief that that is possible, what grounds are there for hope?
“Equally, if there is not a better understanding of the approaches available to better care for dementia in the primary and acute care systems, what hope is there of reducing the negativity that pervades societal attitudes to dementia?”
Mr Rees used the opportunity to speak on the world stage to raise international awareness about his organisation’s Fight Dementia campaign.
“In 2005, Australia led the way when the then government funded the $320 million Dementia Initiative – making dementia a national health priority,” he said in a press release about his speech.
“Our confidence was shattered when Australia took a step backwards by terminating the Dementia Initiative in the 2010-11 Federal Budget.
“As a result Alzheimer’s Australia began the Fight Dementia Campaign which has put the stories of people with dementia centre stage.”
The campaign is calling on the government to invest in a five year, $500 million Dementia Action Plan in the 2012-13 Federal Budget for awareness, early diagnosis, care and support, dementia risk reduction and investment in research.
“We must communicate the urgent need for action in health and aged care policy with greater sophistication, passion and assertiveness than we have ever done before.
“We need the world to know that dementia is not a natural part of ageing and that people can take steps to help reduce the risk of getting dementia.
“By being positive we will achieve a world which is much more dementia friendly and which recognises dementia as a major chronic disease that needs to be addressed through a public health framework.”
Alzheimer’s Australia is the charity for people with dementia and their families and carers. As the peak body, it provides advocacy, support services, education and information.
An estimated 280,000 people currently have dementia in Australia. This number is projected to double by 2030.
National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500. An interpreter service is available.