Despite recent statistics showing that dementia prevalence is set to increase in the Caribbean by 155 per cent by 2050, regional progress in tackling the neurodegenerative condition is far too slow, say Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), the global federation for 105 Alzheimer’s and dementia associations across the world.

Only 16 per cent of Caribbean countries and territories have made progress in developing a National Dementia Plan, most of which have inadequate funding.

ADI is calling for the public across the Caribbean to urge their governments to take urgent action on dementia, teaming up with Alzheimer’s associations in Barbados, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sint Maarten, St Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago to launch a regional campaign ‘What’s Your Plan’ (#WhatsYourPlan).

Urgent action is required now: Dementia care is a human right

While a few countries in the region, like the Dominican Republic and Cuba have implemented National Dementia Plans, unfortunately most are without adequate funding. The Caribbean ADI members participating in the #WhatsYourPlan campaign are yet to have any fully funded, implemented National Dementia Plan in their countries.

Ryan Geluk, President of the Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association, says,

“Dementia is one of the most critical illnesses that our generations are facing and it needs to start to get the needed attention though a National Dementia Plan. Developing a National Dementia Plan has always been the critical step to getting the necessary foundation in the Virgin Islands becoming a dementia-friendly society, which is the vision of the Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association.”

Paola Barbarino, ADI’s CEO, says developing, funding, and implementing National Dementia Plans is essential to improving health outcomes for people living in the Caribbean with dementia.

“A National Dementia Plan is a vital step in helping those living with dementia to have access to the support and services they need to live well, for longer,” says Barbarino. “Access to support and a care plan, including care at home and in community settings, at-home adaptations, and respite for carers, alongside medical treatments, are vital for people living with dementia, as well as their carers and family.”

“By denying the British Virgin Islands and those across the region this support, governments are doing a disservice to their communities,” says Barbarino. “All people living with dementia in the Caribbean deserve access to the kinds of support and services a National Dementia Plan makes available. It’s their human right.”

As the world’s population gets older, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is rapidly increasing, threatening to overwhelm health services in many countries. In 2019, dementia was ranked the 3rd leading cause of death in the Americas, accounting for over 390,000 deaths.

ADI is calling on people living in Caribbean countries participating in the #WhatsYourPlan campaign to urge their governments to develop a National Dementia Plan that features, improvements in care for those living with dementia, support for carers and to implement key policies to help delay or reduce up to 40 per cent of the possible number of cases of dementia in the future.

“We’re talking with the various Ministries of Health, Age & Social Support in many Caribbean countries, and while in some cases it can lead to progress it is often too slow. For a condition like dementia, time is of the absolute essence. People cannot wait,” says Paola Barbarino. “We need people from all over the Caribbean to speak up for people with dementia so that their governments might actually listen and act.”

Empty promises and blunt tools: Lack of funding stalling progress in the Caribbean

While some progress has been made in developing National Dementia Plans in the Caribbean, Paola Barbarino, ADI Chief Executive Officer, says that a lack of funding for these plans means many communities are missing out.

“A National Dementia Plan is a government’s best tool for preparing for this looming global health crisis,” says Barbarino. “Despite some progress to develop plans in a few Caribbean nations, without adequate funding to implement them, these plans are laying unused on the desks of bureaucracy across the region – more empty promises, and blunt tools.”

“Continued inaction now will lead to much greater health, care and societal challenges in managing dementia later,” continues Barbarino. “Governments must have robust dementia strategies funded and in place, to save healthcare systems from being overwhelmed as dementia cases rise in the future.”

Over 740,000 people: While progress stalls, the number of people in the Caribbean living with dementia continues to soar

The latest estimates show that there will be over 740,000 people living with dementia in the Caribbean by 2050.

However, it’s not possible to obtain the true number of people living with dementia in the British Virgin Islands currently, as it is not measured by the government; an issue which would be ameliorated by a National Dementia Plan.

Research has found that the greatest risk factors for dementia in the Caribbean include Cardiovascular health, diabetes, family history, older age, education. Further, women with lower levels of education in rural areas are overrepresented in dementia statistics in the Caribbean.

Risk reduction should be designed with a life-course approach in mind, targeting both older and younger populations, with a focus on the modifiable 12 risk factors estimated to contribute to 40 per cent of the cases of those living with dementia.