Message by Hon. Vincent O. Wheatley
Minister for Health and Social Development
“World Alzheimer’s Month”
For September, the Virgin Islands' community joins the rest of the world in observing World Alzheimer's Month. The observation of World Alzheimer's Month is being spearheaded by Alzheimer's Disease International to raise awareness of dementia and to help address and eliminate the stigma associated with the disease. Dementia is a degenerative brain condition that robs a person of their memory, competency, comprehension and behavioural awareness, usually slowly, over years and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.
This year, the focus for the World Alzheimer’s Month campaign is “Never too early, never too late”. This year's campaign hopes to underscore the pivotal role of identifying risk factors and adopting proactive risk reduction measures to delay, and potentially prevent the onset of dementia. This includes ongoing risk reduction strategies for persons who have already received a diagnosis.
Currently, there is a paradigm shift worldwide regarding the perception of Alzheimer's disease and doctors and patients are beginning to understand that Alzheimer's disease and other dementias can start many years before symptoms start to become apparent. Nonetheless, with the global number of people living with dementia expected to triple by 2050, there is a greater need for a more urgent understanding and response to the risk factors associated with this condition.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 55 million people have dementia worldwide with over sixty per cent of them living in low and middle-income countries. Through the National Health Insurance’s database, the Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association found that 188 persons in the Virgin Islands have been officially diagnosed with dementia. Data statistics from Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that worldwide, roughly 75% of dementia cases go undiagnosed. Therefore, it can be reasonably estimated that the number of persons living with dementia in the Territory goes above 300.
There is no current cure for Alzheimer's and given the international statistics and local data, now more than ever, we as a community must use this year's theme "Never too early, never too late" as a guiding principle for our perception of Alzheimer's disease in the Virgin Islands. We must examine all our personal risk factors and find different strategies to mitigate our risk. New research from The Lancet Commission, a medical journal, indicated that twelve main risk factors over our lifetime can cause dementia and modifying these risks could prevent or delay up to forty per cent of dementia cases. However, it takes advocacy, partnership and the collaboration of public, private and Non-Governmental Agencies to tackle this disease and educate our community, thus slowing prevalence rates within the Virgin Islands so we can keep these numbers from drastically rising
Here are some risk reducing tips:
- Consume less alcohol and cease smoking.
- Maintain physical activities.
- Have your hearing checked regularly and use hearing aids if necessary.
- Avoid serious head injuries and take care in sports and motorbike riding from an early age.
- Ensure that all children have access to education and the support and knowledge to maintain a healthy weight through nutrition and exercise.
- Improve sleep and maintain a healthy lifestyle for both brain health and overall well-being.
- Monitor all non-communicable diseases.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development through its Aged Care Services continue to provide services that can be accessed by people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. We currently have the East End/Long Look and Carrot Bay senior programmes which are supervised programmes that promote the socialization of senior citizens with their peers. Studies have shown that feelings of loneliness and social isolation can be common among persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. This can further increase symptoms of conditions like depression and anxiety which can lead to a faster cognitive decline.
In addition, the Social Development Department also provides Home care services for elderly persons, which can be accessed by families of persons with Alzheimer’s disease. With this service, the Department provides the highest quality services and care in the client's residence. This augments the care and services provided by our local hospitals, community-based clinics and other health care facilities. Although we continue to do work to help members of our society who suffer from Alzheimer's, there is still a long way to go to properly educate the population on the far-reaching impacts of Alzheimer's.
So, this September is an opportunity for individuals, businesses and charities to hold events and raise awareness in their communities of the effects of dementia. World Alzheimer's Month presents an invaluable opportunity for individuals affected by Alzheimer's, caregivers, professionals, governments, media partners, and communities to collaborate in the fight against dementia. It serves as a platform to raise awareness about the true challenges of dementia, counteract stigma and misinformation, and advocate for improved support and care.
I encourage the entire Territory to engage in the events organized by the Virgin Islands Alzheimer's Association, in partnership with the Rotary Family of the BVI and the Lions Clubs of the BVI. These activities are also being carried out in collaboration with the Diabetes Association, Sister Islands District Office, and the Social Development Department throughout World Alzheimer's Month.
Together, we can raise awareness, reduce the risks and eliminate the stigma!