José is 80 years old and has been caring for his wife, Pepa, in Malaga for ten years. / MIGUE FERNÁNDEZ

21 September: World Alzheimer's Day

The release of today's World Alzheimer Report 2021 will focus on the subject of diagnosis of the condition, which is still a major challenge globally

RACHEL HAYNES

World Alzheimer's Day has been celebrated on 21 September since 1994. And the release of today’s World Alzheimer Report 2021 will focus on the crucial subject of diagnosis. It is still a major challenge globally, with estimates that 90 per cent of cases still go undiagnosed and with long waiting times.

The report includes over 50 essays from leading experts around the world and is supported by findings from the key global surveys, including: 1,111 clinicians, 2,325 people with dementia and carers, and over 100 national Alzheimer and dementia associations.

It was estimated in 2020 that all forms of dementia affected about 50 million people worldwide. This is an increase on the 2016 estimate of 43.8 million, and more than double the estimated 20.2 million in 1990. The number of cases is increasing by around 10 million every year.

The international awareness day was launched at the opening of the annual Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI) conference (held on that date in 1994 in Edinburgh) to mark the tenth anniversary of the organisation. In 2012 the whole of September was declared Alzheimer's Month "to enable associations worldwide to extend the reach of their awareness programmes over a longer period of time", explains ADI on its website.

ADI is a London-based umbrella organisation that unites and empowers 94 Alzheimer's associations around the world and is officially linked with the World Health Organization.

Awareness

As with other international awareness days and months, ADI says that the initiative serves to unite opinion leaders, people with dementia, their carers and families, medical professionals, researchers and the media from all around the world.

"Having a globally coordinated awareness sends a strong message to governments and policy makers alerting them of the fact that dementia is a serious health issue which will have serious implications on services and health systems around the world as the world's population grows older. In addition, by focusing on a different message each year, the month can be used to educate and challenge people's misconceptions about dementia," says ADI.

The chronic neurodegenerative disease named after German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, who identified the first case in 1901, is the cause of between 60 and 70 per cent of all cases of dementia, according to the WHO.

Symptoms

Symptoms of dementia include loss of memory, difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying, difficulty in performing previously routine tasks and personality and mood changes, explains ADI.

While the disease mainly affects older people there are cases of individuals under the age of 65 developing young onset dementia.

One of the main aims of World Alzheimer's Day is to fight the stigmatisation and misinformation that surround dementia through greater awareness.

Today, 21 September, is the chance for Alzheimer's associations around the world to challenge those myths and misconceptions through events that involve the entire community.