CHIANG MAI: On the ‘World Alzheimer’s Day’ which will fall on 21 September 2020, the Christian Conference of Asia reminds Asian churches that “Our World Needs More Dementia Friendly Communities”.
In a special message issued by CCA General Secretary, Asian churches are encouraged to facilitate their local congregations to initiate Alzheimer’s caregiver support groups.
“One of the first places many families and individuals often turn for help is to their nearby faith community, so it is important that faith based organisations at local levels be motivated and encouraged to extend help for persons living with Alzheimer’s. The Church, as a community of faith, hope and love has to be an inclusive community where they will find peace, support, and safety,” states the CCA General Secretary.
CCA General Secretary’s Message on ‘World Alzheimer’s Day’, 21 September2020
‘Our World Needs More Dementia Friendly Communities’
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, which is a specific disease characterized by a progressive decline in cognitive function. Every year on 21 September, ‘World Alzheimer’s Day’ is observed around the globe. This is an occasion for the international campaign initiated by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) to raise awareness about the growing problems and the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The theme of this year’s World Alzheimer’s month campaign is: “Let’s talk about dementia”.
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability affecting memory, other cognitive abilities and behaviour that interferes significantly with a person’s ability to maintain their activities of daily living. Although age is the strongest known risk factor for dementia, it is not merely ageing as such; a progressive disorder that causes degeneration of brain cells. The most common cause for progressive dementia among older adults could be due to several other disorders. Alzheimer’s disease is one of those disorders.
Dementia, with its devastating impact on patients and their families, has been growing all over the world. It has been estimated that 35.6 million people are living with dementia worldwide—58% live in low- and middle-income countries and by 2050 this figure is projected to reach 71% of the total. Eastern and southern Asia will see dementia growth rates more than double in the coming 20 years. In most developed countries over seventy per cent of the people with dementia live in special homes or community care centres, with much of the care provided through services rendered by the governments. In low income countries due to lack of facilities for services, informal caregivers such as family members, relatives, friends and neighbours provide care to persons with dementia. It was reported that women contribute to 71% of the global hours of informal care for dementia affected people, with the highest proportion in low income countries, which have 68% of the world’s population of dementia. Taking care of a dementia-affected person is particularly stressful because of the changes in the person’s cognition and abilities, as well as behavioural and emotional changes. The caregiver also undergoes strain and stress due to the hectic workload at home or at work places.
Most countries in Asia, which accounts for the lion’s share of dementia prevalence, have not formulated public health policies directly targeting the burden of dementia. Thus, informal caregivers such as family members, relatives, friends and neighbours bear the brunt of the burden for taking care of medical and social support. It is a hard reality and a painful experience for caregivers to watch the health of their loved ones decline. During such situations the caregivers and other family members need strength and courage and protection from discouragement.
People living with dementia and their caregivers have equal rights and dignity. However, society often stigmatises and alienates them. Their families are even affected as stereotypes and misinformation spread in society, as many believe that dementia is incurable, or dismiss symptoms as just a normal part of aging. Labelling and negative words are often used to describe the sufferer’s condition, resulting in social rejection, internalized shame, and isolation. Now that the COVID-19 outbreak has created a situation of poorly prepared and overburdened health care systems, routine services and support to people living with chronic dementia are severely compromised. Lockdowns, restrictions and other containment measures are intensifying the social exclusion of people living with dementia.
As the world observes the ‘World Alzheimer’s Day’ on 21 September, the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) calls its constituencies to recognise the value of caring for people living with dementia and their families, as well as for caregivers who are nursing and accompanying them. The essential factors needed for winning the battle against dementia depend on our willingness and commitment to create awareness among individuals and communities. Systems and arrangements for empowering people to offer care and support for people with dementia as well as for their carers need to be developed at all levels in society. Most Asian governments have not yet integrated dementia care into their primary health care systems, especially in countries where primary health care is underdeveloped and screening programmes for cognitive decline cannot be implemented. It is important that all Asian governments must introduce policies of national health care with a priority for people with dementia.
On this day of the observance of the ‘World Alzheimer’s Day’, CCA reminds churches in Asia about their role in creating awareness among individuals, congregations and communities. In the context of increasing number of people living with dementia, our world needs more dementia friendly communities. CCA urges Asian churches to encourage their local congregations to initiate Alzheimer’s caregiver support groups. One of the first places many families and individuals often turn for help is to their nearby faith community, so it is important that faith-based organisations at local levels be motivated and encouraged to extend help for persons living with Alzheimer’s. The Church, as a community of faith, hope and love, has to be an inclusive community where they will find peace, support, and safety. Let us, as the Psalmist prayed, beseech God for His grace: “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” (Psalms 71:9). Let us be reminded of God’s assurances that “I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is grey. I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:4).
Mathews George Chunakara
General Secretary, CCA
20 September 2020