Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 15th 2017 Contents JUNE 15 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
We can beat dementia together
body who has suffered from
dementia. My own Uncle
Charlie's partner, Barbara,
has been bravely coping with
Alzheimer's disease (the most
common cause of dementia) for several years
He has talked about his helplessness and pain
as he slowly loses his best friend and soul mate
to this cruel disease. Many staff members at
Virgin have also lost loved ones to dementia,
devastating them and their families.
This has been on my mind lately because
the UK commemorated Dementia Awareness
Week in late May. It served as a good reminder
of the terrible impact that dementia has on
those who suffer from it, as well as on their
families and friends, and on society as a whole.
Dementia, an illness that is characterised by
gradual memory loss, affects about 50 million
people around the world in its various forms,
and there are more than 9.9 million new cases
reported every year. This is a disease that knows
no barriers; it can affect anyone, anywhere.
In fact, dementia is set to become one of
the biggest killers in the 21st century, with the
number of people affected expected to increase
exponentially in some of the world's fast-
est-growing countries; the overall figures are
set to double almost every 20 years, reaching
75 million by 2030 and 131.5 million by 2050.
These countries are also among the world's
poorest. Already 58 per cent of people with
dementia live in low- and middle-income
countries, with an expected rise to 68 per
cent by 2050.
Sadly, though so many people are affected,
the topic is often avoided, perhaps because
dementia is one of the diseases we tend to
Those affected by dementia often go through
dramatic changes in mental functioning, while
their loved ones struggle to come to terms with
the permanence of these changes. In some
low-income countries, families care for those
with dementia, and there are few health profes-
sionals or social programmes available to help.
In some languages there is not even a word
for dementia. Those who are suffering from it
are frequently disowned by their families and
isolated from their communities. Around the
world, many people view dementia as a nearly
inevitable part of the aging process.
But it's not: it's a disease, and diseases can be
prevented or cured. This is exactly why more
needs to be done. We need to act, not shy away
from the problem.
Exciting scientific breakthroughs have tak-
en place in a number of areas. One involves
the use of new brain imaging tools that allow
researchers to detect changes up to 20 years
before symptoms start. This vastly increases
the time frame within which the disease can
be prevented from progressing. Another area
concerns our understanding of the causes be-
hind the different forms of dementia.
By learning more about the ways in which
brain cells are damaged, researchers are able
to design more effective treatments. But we
can do more. We must rise to the challenge of
ending this disease in the same way we have
successfully tackled so many others.
Every effort we take, through volunteering,
donating and campaigning---or supporting the
entrepreneurs who are starting enterprises to
research dementia or serve those suffering from
it---takes us one step closer to reversing this
How we respond to the coming crisis will
depend on our capacity to support the essential
research that's required to combat the disease
and to draw much-needed attention to the es-
sential social care provided by family members
and others on a daily basis.
A number of organisations are leading these
efforts around the world. I myself have worked
closely with Alzheimer's Research UK and the
Together, we need to build a wave of aware-
ness, compassion and political will that will
bring to bear the resources needed to combat
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin
Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic,
Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active.
He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-
branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter
at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered in
future columns. Please send them to Richard.
Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your
name, country, e-mail address and the name of
the website or publication where you read the
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