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National plan on dementia

The Parliamentary Secretary for the Elderly and Community Care, Mario Galea launched the National Dementia Strategy Working Group during a press conference at St Vincent de Paul Residence a few weeks ago.

The aim of this group is to develop a national strategy on dementia, which would consist of a strategic plan for improving the planning and development of future dementia care services in the Maltese islands.

Dementia is a general term that refers to a group of brain diseases characterised by severe and progressive cognitive decline that interferes with normal daily functioning. These deficits may include severe memory loss, mental confusion, language difficulties, mood variations and personality changes. It is estimated that more than six million people residing in EU member states have dementia. In Malta, over 4,500 individuals suffer from dementia, a figure that is expected to almost double by the next 25 years.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for about 60 per cent of all dementia cases. Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy-body dementia, fronto-temporal dementia and dementia secondary to disease.

Age is the most important risk factor in developing dementia. The condition affects about 1.5 per cent of individuals aged 65 years and doubles every four years to reach 30 per cent at 80 years. It is the major predictor of morbidity and mortality in the elderly and is associated with a significant increase in healthcare utilisation. If dementia is diagnosed early enough there are lots of things that can be done to help people overcome these problems and to improve their quality of life.

In view of the increasing number of people diagnosed with dementia and the financial implications on health and social care services (both formally and informally), a significant number of countries have recognised the need to put dementia as a top public health priority. Individuals with dementia will invariably make great demands on healthcare services resulting in considerable socio-economic consequences. Although no studies on the economic impact have been conducted so far, it is estimated that the cost of dementia care in Malta runs into tens of millions of euros.

The National Dementia Strategy Working Group plans to come up with the best recommendations that will meet the local needs in dementia care. To achieve this aim it is necessary to embark on a situation analysis so as to identify any gaps in care. This would be followed by an extensive discussion process with all stakeholders coming from governmental, public, private and Church-entities. The various views will then be collated, analysed and, finally, detailed in a report that will be presented to the competent authorities by the end of this year.

The public, especially those caring for individuals with dementia, are encouraged to participate in this process by giving their views in a specifically-designed questionnaire (in English) available on the website www.dementia.gov.

mt. A Maltese version can also be found on the Malta Dementia Society webpage at www.maltadementiasociety.org.mt or at www.dementia.blog.com.mt. Those who do not have any electronic access may request a copy by contacting the Dementia Helpline at Karin Grech Hospital on telephone number 2208 0000.

It is anticipated that the proposed recommendations, together with their implementation, will act as a platform that should assure high-quality dementia care in the Maltese islands. It is, therefore, essential that we all participate in this process and remember not to forget.

Dr Scerri is chairman of the National Dementia Strategy Working Group.

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