Last week A-list actress Carey Mulligan instigated a passionate discussion around dementia and how its impact must not be dismissed as a natural part of ageing. Ms Mulligan, 32, whose late grandmother had Alzheimer’s brought both passion and determination to the panel, who’d gathered to highlight key issues around the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Here at the Dementia Cafe, we abhor the idea of any form of violence, especially violence towards those who are already vulnerable. Yet increasing numbers of women with dementia are having severe problems simply because they have a medical condition that makes them less capable. Carey, who addressed the assembled panel and audience stated:
‘For too many years dementia has been dismissed as a natural part of ageing. It’s not. Dementia is a global health priority, affecting millions. One person develops dementia every three seconds.’
As we know all too well here at the Dementia Cafe over 800,00 people in the UK have been diagnosed with the condition and are currently living with an extremely challenging disease. By 2020 it’s estimated that those numbers will have hit over one million. However, plenty of people are still unaware, or even worse, dismissive of what it actually means to have dementia.
Statistics show that more women than men have a form of the illness and often struggle without the support of family and friends to make themselves heard or be treated fairly by those who aren’t willing to understand. For instance, people may be labelled as forgetful, however, there’s a huge difference between misplacing your car keys and not being able to remember what you ate for breakfast. Let’s also not forget that dementia is indiscriminate- it doesn’t matter what kind of person you are or what upbringing you had.
Carey is also eager to highlight that cultural differences can be a factor of how well someone with dementia is treated by those around them. She shared a story of a woman living in South Africa, who selflessly cares for her sister with dementia and yet they are outcasts as their neighbours believe the poor lady is cursed by an evil spirit. Things such as curses which would be laughable in the UK today are still highly feared in many parts of the world, but the very idea that this woman can cure herself of dementia is incredibly dangerous. Carey also spoke about a short film she appeared in that aims to educate people in Nigeria about what dementia actually is and how they can help:
‘I appeared in a short film on dementia recently with Kiki Edwards, a leading advocate in Nigeria. Kiki speaks out for women with dementia symptoms who are accused of witchcraft and reports of women with dementia being stoned or even burnt to death. Kiki herself has been accused of witchcraft, simply because she supports those with the condition.’ – Carey Mulligan.
However, change is coming. Recently the World Health Organisation has launched a new Global Action Plan on Dementia. We, like Carey, hope that through further funding and research a better way of living with the disease may be found. It cannot be underestimated, dementia is causing untold pain and misery globally and often those with the least are the ones who need help the most. Carey is right when she says ‘dementia is a global women’s health and human rights issue that can no longer be ignored.’ We all need to do our part to make sure that no one is a target, exploited or even violently attacked because they battle the terminal disease dementia.