While many Barbadians are living longer with reasonably healthy lives, and the country can boast of having significant numbers of centenarians, this increasing elderly population has created challenges for the provision of health care and other social services.

This was revealed today by Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Joy St. John, as she addressed the Alzheimer’s Training seminar hosted by the National Assistance Board in collaboration with the Barbados Alzheimer’s Association and the National Committee on Ageing.

The seminar was held to observe World Alzheimer’s Day, on September 21, a day on which Alzheimer’s Associations globally seek to raise the awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and elicit support for advances in relevant research, care and support. The Theme for World Alzheimer’s Day was Dementia: Its Time For Action.

Acknowledging that one challenge might potentially be the increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease on the island, Dr. St. John said, "ideally, an older population does not have to mean larger numbers of persons suffering from dementia. Unfortunately, at the present time, those people who live into and beyond the "eighties" are at a 50 per cent risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease."

Referring to statistics, she disclosed that an estimated 30 million people around the world had Alzheimer’s disease, with 4.6 million new cases reported annually, (i.e one new case every seven seconds). This number, the CMO added, was expected to reach over 100 million by 2050.

Dr. St. John further revealed that an April 2008 survey of the medical conditions of 340 patients at the Geriatric Hospital showed that 54 per cent of them had dementia.

"Alzheimer’s affects memory and personality – those qualities that make a person an individual. There is no known cure. Persons slowly lose their abilities to deal with everyday life," lamented the CMO.

According to her, the statistics also showed that while internationally the senior citizens population grew by four per cent, in Barbados it grew by 65 per cent between 1970 and 1990, and it is anticipated that by the year 2020 elderly persons would make up 17 per cent of our population.??

"These improvements in life expectancy are indicative of the high standards of health care made widely accessible to our citizens," said Dr. St. John, adding this was also indicative of the overall high standard of living which Barbados had enjoyed over the years and of which we could be proud.

Outlining some symptoms of Alzheimer’s, she noted that as the illness progressed, persons affected needed assistance with their personal care and other activities.

The CMO observed: "In Barbados as our society has grown towards a nuclear family structure where all adults in the household have to work, the benefits of the extended family have become less available and as a result, the care of the elderly, especially the ill elderly has become an overwhelming burden.??

As a result, families are left with only one option; they have to place their elderly relatives in institutional care."

She, therefore, urged persons to recognise that "all measures necessary must be taken to extend their quality of life for as long as possible."

And, Dr. St. John gave the assurance that the Health Ministry would continue to promote good mental health and wellbeing of the population, stressing that it was important to provide access to appropriate medical consultation to address not only the problem of dementia but also those accompanying chronic ailments. jgill@barbados.gov.bb

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