Since their condition leaves them unable to campaign on their own behalf, the plight of dementia patients is often ignored, and less attention is paid to them than to people with other health conditions, according to Prof. Charles Scerri.
Scerri, who chairs the Malta Dementia Society and who is vice-chair of Alzheimer Europe, was speaking on the issue on the latest edition of Andrew Azzopardi on 103.
Though he emphasised that Malta’s health system was a good one, he argued that it was not as equitable as it should be, with some conditions receiving more attention than others – including dementia – do.
A key reason for this, he added, is that while many other patients can fight for their rights – and rightfully so – dementia leaves patients unable to do the same.
Around 7,000 people are estimated to be living with dementia in Malta, and the number is set to rise to 13,000 by 2050. The main contributor to this, Scerri highlighted, is an aging population and longer life expectancies.
World unprepared to deal with aging population
But life expectancy has increased so rapidly in recent decades that the world has not adapted as well as it should, he argued. He noted that while life expectancy would have been around 30 2,000 years, it reached 55 in Malta after the Second World War.
Since then, in just over 70 years, life expectancy increased just as much as it had done in the preceding two millennia, reaching 83 in Malta.
“I don’t think we were prepared for this phenomenon,” Scerri observed, before warning that one consequence of this, unfortunately, was ageism.
“Ageism is very strong: you can see it in the reporting of people dying with Covid-19, with too much importance given to their age, as though an 80-year-old has less worth than a younger person,” he maintained.
He is similarly bothered with the emphasis given to any underlying conditions Covid-19 victims may have had.
No cure yet for ‘one of most complex conditions’
At present, there is no cure for dementia, and Scerri added that it was unlikely that one would be found in 10-15 years.
“This is one of the most complex conditions we have to deal with,” he pointed out.
While medications exist, they do not work for everyone, and in any case, while they can improve patients’ quality of life, they cannot stop the disease from progressing.
Scerri emphasised that dementia patients deserved better services and treatment, arguing that not enough was being done at present.
“Some might argue I am being greedy,” he said. “But I don’t mind: I want to see much more services provided for all these people.”