Report emphasizes worldwide toll of dementia on women

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

A new report highlights just how much more likely women are to be affected by dementia than men around the world. Not only are the majority of people living with or at risk of developing the disease female, but women are also the majority of caregivers and health professionals in most countries.

Women and Dementia: A Global Research Review” from Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) calls for a broader, evidence-based approached to female-targeted dementia health programs. The need is particularly strong in low- and middle-income countries, where female-led caregiving is the principal care model.

ADI estimates that by 2050, 71 percent of the 135 million people with dementia worldwide will live in low- and middle-income countries. The vast majority will be cared for at home, most likely by a female relative. The report outlines the numerous socio-economic and domestic challenges facing women living in LMICs and suggests that women all over the world are much less likely to access help and support than their male counterparts.

Researchers from the University of Worcester in the United Kingdom concluded that there is a strong need for support, including food, money and appropriate information and care centers in these countries to reduce the burden of care. They also pointed out that the tenuous gains made on gender equality, employment and education in some of these nations are at risk without more social care support for both family caregivers and for older women with the disease.

“Expectations are made in many countries that families will look after older relatives, including those with dementia,” according to the report. Although women are most often the primary caregivers, there was often reluctance among many to access help from formal and informal support services, due to conflicts between cultural and family expectations, or the ability and willingness to seek help.

The report highlights the experiences of female caregiving in high-income countries including the U.S. and Canada, and calls on policy makers to integrate better support systems for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex females. In addition, it also looks at cultural expectations placed on women in various countries – and how that relates to caregiver burden and stress.

ADI called for policy changes that acknowledge and address the disproportionate impact of dementia on women, and urged nations to provide tailored information and support to better enable women to provide care and to feel cared for themselves.

The United Nations Population Fund projects that by 2050, the number of older adults worldwide will reach 2 billion, or about 22 percent of the population. There is particularly rapid growth in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia.

For tips on covering dementia, including Alzheimer’s, check out this tip sheet by Eileen Beal. Paul Kleyman offers tips on multicultural aging – which may be helpful when covering the global crisis. You can find more global data on aging here and additional resources here.

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