Foundation advocates a dementia friendly society

POSTED: 09/14/12 2:34 PM

Alzheimer’s Disease International Pan-American representative Raymond Jessurun (l) poses with President of the St. Maarten Alzheimer’s Foundation Keith Franca and Public Health Minister Cornelius de Weever (r).

GREAT BAY – The St. Maarten Alzheimer’s Foundation presented Public Health Minister Cornelius de Weever on Wednesday with samples of public awareness materials on the disease that will be distributed in the nation throughout the month of September.

The educational materials comprise, books, magazines, bumper stickers and even balloons all with one theme “Dementia: Living Together.”  They include life stories of people living with the disease. As the theme suggests executives of the local foundation are urging persons to take the time to under dementia and be considerate of those living with or affected by the memory loss disease.

September has been designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as Alzheimer’s month; September 21 is Alzheimer’s Day. It is on this day that local representatives will present the official annual report on the global situation compiled by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) to the minister.

Currently, there are 30 million people living with dementia globally and it is estimated that the numbers will more than double to 66 million by 2030.  There are no statistics readily available but according to secretary of the St.Maarten Alzheimer’s Foundation, drs. Raymond Jessurun, the non-communicable disease should be given the same attention as HIV/Aids.

“There are already more people living with dementia than with HIV/Aids.  The epidemic made it necessary to address HIV/Aids. Now it is necessary to address dementia. Not that HIV/Aids is over; we still have to address that as well.”

The foundation plans to spearhead research into the number of people living with the disease on St. Maarten and the types of dementia that exists here. Though in its preparatory stages, a research group comprising volunteer professionals from various foundations is expected to yield data that identify the needs of dementia patients and provide even more proof for dementia to be made a public health priority, the foundation believes.

“We know that the government would welcome those figures and facts because this means policies can be drafted,” Jessurun stated.

He added that he was proud of the work that has been done thus far by his two year old organization under the leadership of President Keith Franca.  Franca outlined the goals of the Alzheimer’s association and its accomplishments to date.

Alzheimer’s, Franca said, “requires attention by the community, government, all of us with respect to bringing the awareness and doing something about it.”

Franca lauded the Rotary Club for running a month long media campaign on Alzheimer’s and other organizations such as the Lions Club, Mental Health Foundation and the White and Yellow Cross foundation, for doing a “very fine work.”

St. Maarten was one of the smallest countries to be accepted into the fold of ADI in London as its 77th member in March.

“People are being affected by it emotionally, physically, mentally and they have to get extra attention because this thing is burning people out, especially those who have to take care of dementia patients. Here in St.Maarten we have people living with dementia and family members taking care of them but we don’t look after them. We don’t listen to them, this is the idea of this month; that we listen to people that have been affected by this disease,” Jessurun appealed.

The association also plans to speak with those diagnosed with the disease and their family members throughout the month. It has since started a pilot project at the Sundial School to educate students about the disease and how to treat people.

“Especially for those students who are in the care sector, this will be a great opportunity,” Jessurun said.

Although 1 in every 3 seniors is affected by dementia, the disease is by no means restricted to elderly, Jessurun explained. He cited the case of a 28-year-old female here who was recently diagnosed with early onset dementia.

There could be countless more young persons who are experiencing some of the symptoms of the disease but are either influenced by the stigma attached to the disease or are not educated enough to follow up with memory testing or visits to their physicians, he added.

This is the first time that the world has dedicated a month long observance to raise awareness on the disease.

“If we can get this label that we are a dementia friendly society that can be an example for the region. Just as people with physical handicaps have rights, people with a memory handicap also have the right to get people being friendlier towards them,” Jessurun said.

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