Published On: Wed, Jan 25th, 2023

St. Maarten urgently needs a national dementia plan

PHILIPSBURG — St. Maarten currently has an estimated 600 citizens living with dementia and over the next couple of decades the situation is projected to get much worse. Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) says that by 2050 the number will have increased dramatically to 1,800. In the wider Caribbean numbers will increase on average by 155 percent in 2050.

ADI and the local Alzheimer’s Foundation led by Drs. Raymond Jessurun are now both urging governments to put a national dementia plan in place. Not unique: according to ADI only 16 percent of Caribbean countries have made any progress with the establishment of such plans. The reason for this is rather mundane: a lack of funding, or, to put it another way, a lack of political awareness and will to make funding available.

Still, St. Maarten is not completely unaware of the situation given the fact that its national mental health plan mentions dementia and it addresses the risk factors for dementia in the national multi-sectoral action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicative diseases.

While ADI lists dementia as the seventh leading cause of death globally (and the third leading cause in the Americas) St. Maarten has limited data available to pinpoint the exact scope of the problem.

AFI has launched a regional #Whatsyourplan campaign to raise awareness for people living with dementia. The campaign focuses on urging governments to develop a national dementia plan. This would help countries to manage the oncoming influx of dementia cases.

Says Drs. Jessurun: “Persons living with dementia and their caretakers have the same rights as we have. As such, we ask the government of St. Maarten #Whatsyourplan to improve the lives of those living with dementia, caretakers and the wider society that are impacted by this condition.”

The Dominican Republic and Cuba are among the few countries that have established national dementia plans. Most other countries in the region have not done that, due to a lack of adequate funding.

ADI-CEO Paola Barbarino says that national dementia plans are vital steps in helping those living with dementia to get access to the support and services they need. “Access to support and a care plan, including care at home and in community settings, at-home adaptations and respite for caretakers, alongside medical treatments, are vital for people living with dementia, as well as for their caretakers and their families.”

Barbarino criticizes governments that pay insufficient attention to dementia. “By denying St. Maarten and those across the region this support, governments are doing a disservice to their communities. All people living with dementia in the Caribbean deserve access to the support and services a national dementia plan makes available. It is their human right.”

ADI’s latest estimates show that by 2050 there will be 740,000 people living with dementia in the Caribbean. There will be an estimated 1,800 such patients in St. Maarten, though it is not possible to obtain an exact number. The reason: the government does not measure it.

Risk factors for dementia include cardiovascular health, diabetes, family history, old age and education. According to ADI women with lower levels of education living in rural areas are overrepresented in Caribbean dementia statistics.

Thirteen Caribbean countries are participating in the #Whatsyourplan-campain, including Bonaire and St. Maarten. Both countries desperately need a plan, because an overview presented by AFI shows that there is no information whatsoever available: not about the status of a national dementia plan and not about the prevalence of dementia in 2019.

The countries that do have data offer a frightening future. Trinidad and Tobago for instance, projects and increase in the number of dementia cases of 194 percent from 10,194 in 2019 to 29,968 in 2050. A national dementia plan is “under development.”

Other countries that are facing a steep increase are Puerto Rico (105 percent), Jamaica (127 percent), Saint Lucia (172 percent) and the Bahamas (226 percent). With the exception of Puerto Rico, these countries do not have a national dementia plan in place.