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Stigmas facing women with dementia around the world

dementia old lady around the world
dementia old lady around the world

Amy Little

Executive Lead, Global Alzheimer’s & Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA)

Research shows that women not only face a greater prevalence of the condition, but also shoulder the majority of care and face the greatest stigma.

In March this year, an audience from at least 23 countries joined experts for a London event called ‘Women & Dementia: A Global Challenge’. The event examined the impact of dementia on women worldwide including the universal stigma surrounding the condition and how extreme forms of discrimination can lead to the abuse of women.

Older women face the ‘triple jeopardy’: being discriminated against because of their sex, age and medical condition.

Older women in particular are facing a so-called triple jeopardy, discriminated against because of their sex, age and medical condition. A recent UK study identified that women living with dementia are more likely than men to be prescribed psychotropic medication that can negatively affect their physical health. Yet despite the impact of dementia on women, of the 29 countries in the world with a national plan to tackle the disease, only 12 offer gender-sensitive responses. There is also no systematic data collection that separates the prevalence, diagnosis rates or impact of dementia on women.

The reality is that dementia is the UK’s biggest killer of women and is in the top 10 causes of death for women worldwide. In 2018, dementia is estimated to become a $1 trillion disease; that’s a cost greater than the GDP of all but the 15 richest economies in the world. 80 per cent of these costs account for the unpaid and formal care for people living with dementia, two-thirds of which is delivered by women.

An example of social stigma around the world

Sarah (not her real name) cares for her older sister who lives with advanced dementia. They live in a suburb of Bloemfontein, South Africa. Sarah has taken her young daughter out of school to help with caring duties and to save money to support the family. In common with the majority of the world, the sisters bear the brunt of a stigma against dementia, in this case manifested in a belief that the eldest sister does not have a medical condition, but that she is cursed.

Stigma manifested itself in the belief that she is cursed.

Due to the close, caring relationship with her sister, the family and wider community believe that Sarah is also cursed – a phenomenon known as ‘courtesy stigma’. Such beliefs are common in many countries and will not be dispelled until more people join forces to raise awareness of dementia and of the 50 million people worldwide who live with condition.

Women working together against dementia stigma

To mark World Alzheimer’s Day the Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance has released a new film featuring the actress Carey Mulligan (Alzheimer’s Society’s Global Dementia Friends Ambassador) and leading women in the field of dementia. The film tells the story of more women like Sarah, demonstrating that dementia is a global women’s health, social care and rights issue that can no longer be ignored.

Watch ‘And Then I Looked Up Dementia’ and find more information here:

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