The Malta Independent 22 January 2022, Saturday

National dementia strategy launched for consultation

Malta Independent Thursday, 20 February 2014, 14:02 Last update: about 9 years ago

A national strategy on dementia has been launched for public consultation today, and the government is aiming to adopt a finalised version of the strategy next October.

The strategy was authored by Charles Scerri, a senior lecturer at the University of Malta who specialises in Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementia, and who co-founded the Malta Dementia Society NGO.

Dr Scerri had also been the author of a draft strategy on dementia which had been presented to the previous government in 2010. But Parliamentary Secretary for Active Ageing Franco Mercieca noted that this draft strategy had been shelved, and had since become somewhat outdated, and Dr Scerri was thus tasked with updating the strategy to cover the years 2015-2023.

Dr Scerri pointed out that the number of individuals with dementia is set to increase as Malta’s population ages. While the number of individuals with dementia was estimated to be 5,198 in 2010 – equivalent to 1.24% of the general population – the figure is projected to reach 3.62% of the population, or over 14,000 people, by 2060.

This increase, he observed, was set to cause sizeable economic and financial pressures which had to be dealt with.

The stated aim of the strategy is to “enhance the quality of life of individuals with dementia, their caregivers and family members,” and its recommendations are divided in six categories: increasing awareness, improving timely diagnosis and early intervention, development of a specialised workforce, improving treatment and care, promoting ethical approaches, and promoting and fostering research in the field.

Dr Scerri observed that increased awareness was required to decrease the stigma associated with dementia. The report also highlights a number of common misconceptions, including the belief that the symptoms of dementia are an inevitable consequence of old age and that such symptoms are transient.

The strategy’s recommendations to increase public awareness include the appointment of a “dementia ambassador,” ongoing information campaigns and targeted information sessions and strengthening the Dementia Helpline.

Increased awareness, Dr Scerri pointed out, would also help to ensure that dementia is identified at an early stage, which can serve to enhance individuals’ quality of life and limit institutionalisation.

There are numerous types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common, and Dr Scerri noted that the most notable early signs include problems with short-term memory and difficulties with completing familiar tasks.

To encourage early treatment, the strategy calls for the provision of training opportunities to family doctors, facilitating referrals to specialist services and reducing waiting times for appointments through the recruitment of additional specialists.

The strategy also highlights the need for increased training of those involved in the care of dementia patients: it highlights that even among healthcare professionals working in specialist dementia services, there is a low proportion of staff receiving training on dementia care. The university is urged to develop undergraduate level study units focusing on dementia, and the strategy also calls for the development of training programmes for all healthcare professionals caring for individuals with dementia.

At present, there is no cure for the most common forms of dementia, and the primary goal of treatment is to delay the progression of cognitive symptoms. But not all medications used in such treatment are included in the government formulary list; a situation Dr Scerri argues should be addressed, among other recommendations including a regular review of individuals on such medication.

The strategy also calls for an increase in the number of day centres specialising in dementia, as well as for the establishment of a dementia intervention team serving as a point of reference and support for individuals with dementia, their caregivers and their family members.

Dr Scerri insisted that ongoing research was crucial, as it was necessary to determine whether the strategy was proving to be effective, and would help to draft the next strategy.

Malta is set to be only the 16th country to implement a national strategy of dementia, Dr Scerri remarked, although he also pointed out that France, for instance, has already launched its third strategy to address the issue.

The strategy, which is available on www.activeageing.gov.mt, is up for public consultation until the end of May. Anyone interested in participating in the consultation process may send their feedback in writing to Dr Franco Mercieca, Palazzo Ferreria, Republic Street, Valletta, or via email to [email protected]

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