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Expert warns of dementia threat

Care advice: Tim Forester-Morgan and Sarah Mould, of the Dementia Training Company (Photograph by Fiona McWhirter)

A three-pronged threat from chronic health problems and an ageing population could lead to a leap in the number of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers, a British expert warned yesterday.

Tim Forester-Morgan said diabetes, heart disease and an ageing population were all risk factors that contribute to the condition.

He added: “The prevalence of diabetes on the island is the second highest in the world and the World Health Organisation has highlighted that this is a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Bermuda has a high rate of heart disease, which has also been shown to increase the possibility of the disease.

“Add to this the country’s ageing population and you have a combination of factors that together suggest a very significant risk that the numbers of people who could be living with dementia in Bermuda could increase quite sharply over the next few years.

Mr Forester-Morgan and Sarah Mould, directors of the British-based Dementia Training Company, have been on the island for the past six days to highlight the latest research and advice to caregivers and public service teams.

They were invited by Elizabeth Stewart, founder and president of Action on Alzheimer’s and Dementia, which is working on a national strategy to provide guidelines for people and organisations involved with Alzheimer’s patients.

It is the fourth time the pair have visited and both said awareness in the community had increased over the years.

Bermuda Alzheimer’s and Memory Services said about 2,000 people on the island have dementia, which causes a deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks.

The Government said yesterday that the actual number of sufferers was not known but “informal estimates” suggested it was about 1,000.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and the WHO has said it may make up between 60 and 70 per cent of cases.

A 2011 comparison of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries showed Bermuda’s diabetes prevalence was more than ten per cent — the second highest in the survey.

The 2017 Health in Review report showed cardiovascular disease was the biggest killer in Bermuda and accounted for a third of all deaths in recent years.

Ms Mould said the connections had been made between these conditions and Alzheimer’s.

She added: “It now feels like people are hearing the message. Certainly the GPs, I think, were quite shocked by some of the information we provided but also committed to doing something about it.”

The pair have undertaken a programme of events, including training with police and fire crews, nursing students, family caregivers and charities.

Mr Forester-Morgan and Ms Mould joined Ms Stewart for a meeting with representatives from the Ministry of Health as well as the Ageing and Disabilities Services.

Ms Stewart hoped a national strategy could be developed in line with a Pan-American Health Organisation regional plan of action, published in 2015.

The document committed countries to creating plans that include risk reduction through public health programmes, better training for healthcare professionals and ensuring everyone affected by dementia received the same opportunities for care and support.

Ms Mould said people in Bermuda had asked her what needed to be done next.

She added: “People are recognising we need more specialised services, perhaps, for people with dementia, we need more options for them.”

She and her colleague said national strategies in other countries helped to raise awareness in sectors that were likely to come into contact with dementia sufferers, including shops, banks and bus drivers.

Mr Forester-Morgan said: “You could build on what Bermuda already has, which is a strong community base, helping the community with understanding and how they can support somebody they know who is maybe displaying signs of dementia.”

He added: “There’s so much community work that happens here, it would be great to have buddying systems for people who have been through the journey helping someone with dementia to remain involved in helping others.”

Ms Stewart said the government teams had been “very supportive”. She added: “They know seniors are a huge issue for the island. It’s on their radar.”

She admitted public funds were limited, but acknowledged that island organisations were making their own moves to come up with a plan.

Ms Stewart said: “There’s a group of people who are going to start looking at creating a dementia strategy, which obviously we would pass on to the ministry.”

A government spokeswoman said: “The ministry welcomes proposals for a dementia strategy aligned with WHO and PAHO priorities.

“The potential growth of this population is a key driver of prevention and addressing a long-term care system for the country.”