This article is part of our special report Is Europe ready for Alzheimer’s?.
Denmark has put forward a national plan aimed at making the country dementia-friendly by 2025, Minister of Health Sophie Loehde told EURACTIV.com in Copenhagen.
Dementia has become a political priority for Denmark, where an estimated 35,000 persons live with this disease today.
“In reality, the number is much higher since many live with the disease without having been diagnosed and in the years to come many more people will be affected,” Loehde said.
“Dementia is a terrible disease that turns the lives of those affected upside down,” the liberal politician stressed, adding that considering the critical situation, the government decided to forge a new national action plan on dementia for 2025.
Denmark’s plan was recently launched and inspired by best practices across Europe. It received funding worth over €60 million.
The strategy focuses on three overall objectives.
“Firstly, Denmark must become a dementia-friendly nation where people with dementia can live a safe and dignified life,” Loehde said.
The second goal focuses on tailor-made care giving and prevention for dementia sufferers.
“The treatment and care of people with dementia must be based on the needs and values of the individual person, and treatment must be provided in a coherent way that focuses on prevention and early intervention and is based on the newest knowledge and research,” she explained.
The third objective is to support the friends and relatives of dementia sufferers, which she said should take center stage in the Danish strategy.
“Focusing on relatives is important when it comes to dementia since they face a very special challenge. Not only do they have to handle that a person close to them is severely ill, at the same time they also have to deal with their own grief of losing touch with a beloved person,” she said.
Under the Danish national plan, 80% of dementia sufferers will have a specific diagnosis by 2025, Loehde said. Meanwhile, caregivers, nursing homes and hospitals will receive better training and skills development.
Reducing the amount of drugs administered to dementia sufferers is also an important part of the plan.
“The antipsychotic medication among people with dementia should be reduced by 50% toward 2025. It’s not easy but I know that we can do it,” Loehde said.
Speaking at the 26th Alzheimer Europe Conference in Copenhagen, Sophie Loehde pointed out that her country’s national plan was collectively designed with the participation of relevant stakeholders, including persons affected by dementia.
The minister visited 35 municipalities in Denmark as well as in the Netherlands, the UK, Norway, and Sweden.
A key political objective is to make all 98 municipalities in Denmark “dementia-friendly” by making it “easier and safer for people with dementia and their relatives to live with this disease”.
“Together [with stakeholders] we placed dementia on the top of the political agenda, as it should be,” the minister pointed out.
She also cited an example of a relative of a person with dementia who said: “Sometimes, when we meet people we know, they cross the street in order to avoid us. We feel sorry for them. We know they do it because they don’t know what to do or what to say.”
“I want to fight this stigmatisation,” Loehde said.
Inspired by the UK
Denmark’s national plan on dementia was largely inspired by the United Kingdom, where more than 1.5 million dementia “friends” are currently registered.
Britain has made efforts to set political targets, which are systematically followed up by data on how every region in the country performs, Loehde said.
“I’m impressed by the efforts of the UK to deal with people with dementia and their families. In Manchester, I was particularly impressed by the way civil society is involved.”
The minister mentioned the example of a young British woman suffering from dementia who found herself challenged while shopping in a local supermarket. She was stressed out by “busy people” who lost their patience while queuing in line with her to pay, and she then contacted the director of the supermarket, who decided to make a separate line for persons like her.
This, Loehde said, is “a little example indicating how much a small change can make a huge difference for people”.
The role of local communities
Birgitte Vølund, the chairwoman of the Danish Alzheimer Association, told EURACTIV that municipalities should be fully engaged in creating dementia-friendly local communities.
“Municipalities should form specific policies and set clear goals. The municipalities carry 80% of the economic burden so it’s them that should change,” Vølund stressed, adding that people with dementia should also be heard in this process, especially during the implementation phase.
“Our goal is to provide a better quality of care in everyday life,” she emphasised.
Vølund pointed out that when sufferers are diagnosed with dementia, “they are more or less left alone” as municipalities actually tell them “call us if you need any help”.
“People are so confused when they receive a diagnosis. We need to take action to help these people from the very beginning,” Vølund said, adding that the local administration should adopt more proactive strategies focused on visits and advice.
“The other thing is to have much more volunteering activity centers in Denmark which deal with social, cultural and physical activities,” she said.
An estimated 7.3 million Europeans (EU-27) suffered from different types of dementias in 2006. Within this group, more women (4.9 million) than men (2.4 million) were affected.
Although dementia does not only affect older people, the likelihood of developing dementia nevertheless increases with age.