We can expect numbers of elderly to increase gradually to some 20-25 per cent of the population by 2040. This means a higher number of frail elderly and an increasing number of people suffering with conditions such as dementia, especially Alzheimer’s type dementia.
There is currently no cure for dementia, however early recognition of the condition, and supportive treatment can significantly improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers.
Right now in the Cook Islands a challenge for our services is to think about what is important and what appropriate social health care services and community-based services can be provided. People with dementia often benefit by attending day care activities in some form, which allow them to socialise with others and have some mental stimulation.
Day-care programs also allow the usual carers and family to have a regular break.
While placement of people with dementia in hospital is sometimes necessary, especially to provide respite to the families caring for them, this can only be a short-term option. I feel there is a greater need for community-based facilities for longer-term care of our elderly.
There also needs to be provision of education: having a better understanding of what is happening to their loved ones will enable the whole community to better meet their care needs in their final years.
Some 24 per cent of our elderly are presenting with dementia compared to 15 per cent internationally, and once over age 80, some 70 to 80 per cent.
Some ways of reducing your risk of dementia include maintaining an active social life, physical exercise, healthy sleep and stimulating your brain function by learning something new! In many ways it’s like the Maeva Nui and Cook Islands culture, choreographing new dances, new imene, and joining together in regular komakoma!
I hope that we can create age-friendly communities that ensure quality health care for all. After all, we are all growing older and may need these services ourselves one day!
Meitaki maata e Kia manuia
Dr Colin Patrick
Specialist psychiatrist visiting with Cook Islands mental health team