MEPs speak out on dementia
Alojz Peterle, MEP (Slovenia, EPP) and member of the European Alzheimer’s Alliance, speaks with Alzheimer Europe about the challenges people with dementia and their carers face in Slovenia and about the development of a national Alzheimer’s plan
Alzheimer Europe (AE): what are the key challenges that people with dementia and their carers face in Slovenia?
Alojz Peterle (AP): In Slovenia, we have over 30,000 people with dementia and due to the increase of the ageing population we estimate the number could grow by 40 per cent in the next 10 years. Last year only about a quarter of people with dementia were medically treated. This is because in Slovenia there is still a widespread perception that memoryrelated problems are common among the elderly and do not need treatment. On the other hand, it is also the result of an inadequate social response to this severe brain disease, because we do not have enough skilled health professionals for treating it. Consequently,people living with dementia are generally treated by neurologists and psychiatrists.
Due to the lack of trained medical staff, waiting periods for a medical examination last up to six months. Another problem we face in our country is late detection of the disease, however the situation is improving. Many people seek help only in the middle or even final stages of dementia, when they have already developed additional complications, so they need additional treatments as well. People with dementia and their families also face financial difficulties when coping with the disease, as the day care cost in non-specialised care homes for people with dementia is far more expensive than for regular inmates.
There is also a social issue, as people with dementia are often stigmatised. In Slovenia, raising awareness about the disease among the general public, relatives and health care professionals is poorly developed. The same accounts for adapted living environments for an improved way of life. Generally, people with advanced dementia not only need 24 hour assistance but also a lot of support from all of us. A wonderful case of social entrepreneurship is "Spominčica", an association for helping people with dementia which was founded 15 years ago. This association, which is spread all over Slovenia, gathers enthusiasts and volunteers from all over the country for training, advising and supporting patients' relatives at minimum costs.
AE: Governments across Europe are starting to pay more attention to the demographic changes in our societies and the resulting increase in the number of people with dementia in the future. Are there similar discussions in your country on a governmental or parliamentary level?
AP: In 2010, the Slovenian Ministry of Health established a working group for dementia. The working group issued a report on the situation of the disease and gave suggestions on how to regulate dementia in the professional field and on how to treat people with dementia and their families as well. Early this year, our previous Minister for Health appointed a new team (with professionals and associations from the field) to develop a national control program for dementia. I am pleased to hear that Slovenia will finally put dementia among its top priorities in public health.
AE: Do you believe that Slovenia will follow the example of France, Norway, the Netherlands, Scotland and England and create a National Alzheimer's Plan?
AP: With the establishment of the working group for dementia in the Slovenian Ministry of Health, Slovenia is joining other countries with national plans to deal with dementia. But we need to dedicate more resources to research to come up with appropriate medications and preventive methods as soon as possible.
AE: What do you believe the three policy priorities should be for Slovenian policy makers to improve the lives of people with dementia and their careers in your country?
AP: The most important for me is early diagnosis, which is for the time being, set only by few specialists who mostly have very long waiting lists. The second one would be to raise public awareness about this disease thus contributing to the de-stigmatisation of this disease. It is important to stress that dementia is a physical disease of the brain. And finally, after being diagnosed, people with dementia should have access to good quality life conditions and their families should be offered support from the side of the social services.
AE: A last question on the need for a European response to the growing numbers of people with dementia. Would you support the development of a European Action Plan in this field and, if so, what should the priorities for such collaboration be?
AP: I can only express my strong support to a European action plan for people with dementia. In 2009, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Joint Programming of research to combat neurodegenerative diseases, in particular the Alzheimer's disease. It is believed that the instrument of joint programming could be very valuable in reducing the fragmentation of the research efforts, leading to a critical mass of skills, knowledge and financial resources. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases are one of Europe's greatest challenges in mental health, affecting millions of citizens of the EU, a number that will probably double in the coming decades as a result of the ageing of the population. Therefore, the European Parliament takes the stance that the fight against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases must respond to a dual challenge: provide care for an increasing number of people who live with dementia on a day-to-day basis and secure more resources so that the number of people living with dementia steadily decreases in the future. Also direct costs associated to the treatment of Alzheimer's disease are increasing worryingly, which in 2013 are estimated at EUR 187 billion. Unnecessary hospital treatment due to dementia complications, too early moving of peoplewith dementia to home care facilities and non-targeted medical examinations, represent a large part of this amount.
I would like to give my sincere thanks to "Forget-me-not", the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association of Slovenia, established in 1997, which is a non-governmental organisation aimed at raising awareness of all forms of dementia and other mental disorders encountered in older ages.
Last Updated: Tuesday 16 September 2014