15 November 2012
Diaconal organisations and partners from Central and Eastern Europe met with German diaconal partners in Berlin from the 5-9 November to commemorate 20 years of cooperation and look to the future, particularly on how to address the challenges associated with an ageing society.
The UN listed demographic ageing as one of three major global challenges in 21st century. Due to increased life expectancy, the numbers of people with dementia will increase hugely. Participants heard how actions can be taken to reduce the chances of dementia, even for persons with genetic tendencies to develop it. Preventive actions mainly relate to a healthy lifestyle; including physical exercise, a balanced diet, not smoking, drinking in moderation, as well as keeping the brain mentally active. Even once dementia has started, such actions can also help.
Heather Roy, Eurodiaconia Secretary General, highlighted Eurodiaconia's concerns and recommendations, including the importance of addressing the problems of social isolation, loneliness and poverty of older people, tackling the taboo of dementia and ensuring an integrated approach to service provision and accessible environments. Other speakers echoed these concerns. Poverty and exclusion increase chances of developing dementia. Isolation can lead to depression, a risk factor for dementia, and persons in poverty often have unhealthy lifestyles or environments, other risk factors. One project presented worked with housing associations to reach out to isolated people, another approach is creating neighbourhood networks to connect communities, and in its most developed form “integrated service areas”.
Experts in dementia spoke of the difficulty in diagnosing it, especially in diagnosing the different sub-types. This means that treatment is often not well targeted. In the early stages of dementia, memory training can have as much impact as drugs and physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy should be more widely used.
Awareness raising among both the public and within the medical profession is essential to address stigmatisation and break the taboo of dementia. It was clear from the discussions that the provision of information for families who have a relative with dementia needs to be improved, as well as family support, which in turn improves the life situation of the people with dementia. The Japanese use of case managers and the joint training of volunteers and professionals to work with older people were held up as good practice.
A full report, including outcomes from the group discussions and presentations, will be available from the conference organisers in English, German and Russian.