As Malta’s population ages, dementia is on the increase. The degenerative disease costs the country more than cardiovascular disease or cancer – the two main causes of death.

Yet, it is not spoken about as much.

Perhaps this is because dementia patients cannot speak for themselves  and their loved ones are worn out by the cruel, slow process of loss. But, as we have seen in a recent interview with Anne Cuschieri, whose mother died of dementia, this silence needs to stop. It is time to face dementia and talk about it and all its ripple effects on the people it touches and on the country.

Malta recorded the highest rate of deaths caused by dementia in Europe, with just over 80 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, according to Eurostat data published at the end of last year.

A total of 6,552 people were registered to have dementia in 2018.

That figure is expected to reach 14,117 by 2050. 

Behind each of those numbers, there is a painful story of people who are diagnosed with the condition. In the early stages, they are aware that they are losing their memories and personalities. They know they are fading away.

Apart from them, there are the stories of their loved ones who have to witness this and experience the heartbreaking reality of being forgotten by mothers, fathers, wives and husbands. All this while trying to juggle life and work.

And that is just the psychological and emotional part. As dementia progresses physical symptoms follow as the body slowly shuts down.

According to Charles Scerri, an associate professor at the University of Malta’s Department of Pathology and co-founder of the Malta Dementia Society, dementia costs more than cancer and cardiovascular disease. International figures show that dementia costs between €23,000 and €28,000 per person per year.

Scerri spoke about the need for more investment and awareness about how dementia is impacting society.

While Malta has made great strides in the dementia field, he said, there was still a lack of trained staff and specialisation.

A lot of what Scerri said should be tackled in the seven-year National Dementia Strategy launched by the government earlier this year. It will strive to increase awareness and understanding of dementia, educate the public and train healthcare personnel to detect the symptoms and diagnose it as early as possible, help diagnosed people live well with dementia and increase general awareness on how to reduce the risks.

In the interview, Cuschieri spoke about the need to support people with dementia and those around them. She shared the story of how her mother, retired pharmacist Rosa Borg, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 71.

Anne became her mother’s carer – juggling her family and work – and supported her ageing father as he dealt with the heartbreak of being forgotten by the woman he loved.

She spoke about how the first years were the hardest. She spoke about how the family decided to be open about the condition, informing neighbours because they needed their support. She spoke about a string of difficult decisions that had to be taken, which included placing their mother in a care home.

Now, as part of the Malta Dementia Society, Cuschieri is working to ensure that support is more visible and accessible for people with dementia and their families.

She wants the push dementia higher up on the national agenda to get people talking about this reality. Because it will not fade away.

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