At the present time there are around 120 thousand people with Alzheimer’s disease in the Czech Republic. Health experts say they expect that number to quadruple in the next forty years as the average life expectancy grows and the population ages, making it a serious social and health problem. This week the government asked four Czech ministries to produce a comprehensive, long-term strategy aimed at making life easier both for Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older people. An irreversible, progressive brain disease it slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest daily tasks leaving sufferers totally dependent on others. Statistics suggest that it affects ten percent of people between the age of 80 and 85 and thirty percent of people ten year older. Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek said this is something society must prepare to deal with.
“Alzheimer’s disease is not something people are widely acquainted with at present. But in the coming years and decades it will be a phenomenon we will be hearing more of and more people will be touched by it. Therefore the government has asked the ministries of health, social affairs, education and justice to produce a comprehensive, long term strategy which would help both sufferers and caregivers of whom, we are told, 80 percent suffer from depression.”
The government’s so-called Plan Alzheimer is to assess the current situation, including available health care, both in terms of diagnostics, treatment and nursing homes, the social network in place to help relatives and caregivers and the legal aspects involved in getting someone close to the sufferer to represent them when they are no longer able to manage their own affairs.
Iva Holmerová, head of the Czech Alzheimer’s Society says help is sorely needed and more money for research could go a long way.
“Alzheimer’s disease is as you know incurable, but its progress can be slowed down and that is why it is important to put more money into research. It has been ascertained that damage to the brain begins as many as 10 to 20 years before any problems are evident– and if hypothetically we could delay the first symptoms for a period of five years the number of sufferers would be halved. Currently Alzheimer’s researchers in the Czech Republic get a mere five percent of the money allotted to cardio-vascular diseases or cancer research –ie twenty times less.”
Alzheimer societies around the world are calling for action. Alzheimer Disease International recently urged the WHO to make dementia a world priority, saying that it poses the most significant health and social crisis of the century. Campaigners argue that any money spent now will be saved in the future by decreasing the disease burden.