Raising awareness on dementia in Brunei

Azlan Othman

During the Legislative Council (LegCo) Meeting earlier this year, it was highlighted that the United Nations (UN) Development Programme (UNDP) Asia-Pacific Regional Human Development Report 2016 said Brunei will face age-related issues and an ageing population by 2030.

Statistics show that 47,700 individuals in the country were over the age of 55 in 2014, and the number has increased to 53,800 in 2017.

Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) estimates that over 1,000 Bruneians suffered from dementia in 2015, while in 2018, the number doubled to 2,000, with more unrecorded or undiagnosed. These numbers are feared to increase to over 11,000 by 2050 and an estimated BND65 million will be needed annually for their healthcare.

Around the world, there were 9.9 million new dementia cases in 2015, which is one every three seconds. 48.6 million people globally are living with dementia in 2015 and this number will double in every 20 years.

The total estimated worldwide cost of dementia in 2015 was USD818 billion. By 2018, dementia became a trillion dollar disease, rising to USD2 trillion by 2030. If global dementia care were a country, it would be the 18th largest economy in the world exceeding the market values of companies such as Apple and Google.

In the Sultanate, a non-government organisation (NGO) called Demensia Brunei (dB) carries out several initiatives to raise awareness on dementia in Brunei.

The organisation was recently invited to represent Brunei Darussalam at the 22nd Annual ADI Asia Pacific Regional Meeting held at Hotel Istana, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in conjunction with the 21st Alzheimer’s Disease International Asia Pacific Regional Conference 2019.

Honorary Advisor Datin Jacqueline Wong and Vice President Dayang Irnawati Mahir from the dB presented on the country’s progress at the meeting.

Datin Jacqueline and Dayang Irnawati highlighted the workshops, talks and campaigns that dB has organised in Brunei to raise awareness and training of caregivers, healthcare workers, youth, public sector and the community. In 2019, it was highlighted that dB has directly provided talks and workshops to over 300 people from over 10 workshops since its inception in 2018.

Dayang Irnawati noted the support from local media (newspaper publications, TV and radio) and from several government sectors in raising the awareness of persons with dementia in Brunei.

Datin Jacqueline also provided an update on dB’s efforts on advocacy, raising awareness and education to policy makers and highlighted the discussions with the Ministers and Permanent Secretaries from the Ministry of Health; Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports; Ministry of Home Affairs; and Ministry of Education.

The organisation plans to increase the number of dementia care skills trainers in Brunei, further improve the public’s awareness on dementia and make dementia a health priority in Brunei Darussalam.

One of the items on the agenda during the annual regional meeting was the update of progress and events that the members have achieved in their organisation on the improvement of support of persons with dementia and the formulation of the ‘Dementia and Mental Healthcare Plan towards 2025’, which is aligned with the World Health Organization (WHO) call-to-action.

This was announced at the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva on May 2017. Today, there are only 30 of such plans. Malta is the world’s smallest country to have a plan, while South Korea is now on their 3rd National Dementia Plan.

In official relations with ADI, the WHO recognises dementia as a public health priority. The Plan provides a comprehensive blueprint for action – for policy-makers, international, regional and national partners, and WHO with seven action areas: addressing dementia as a public health priority; increasing awareness of dementia and establishing dementia-friendly initiatives; reducing the risk of dementia; diagnosis, treatment and care; information systems for dementia; support for dementia carers; and, research and innovation. The Global Dementia Observatory (GDO), an international surveillance platform, has been established for policy-makers and researchers to facilitate monitoring and sharing of information on dementia policies, service delivery, epidemiology and research.

The regional meeting was attended by over 80 representatives from 20 ADI member countries in the Asia Pacific Region. This year also marked the highest number of countries that participated in the annual regional meeting and is dB’s second time attending since it was established in March 2018. This first was in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the 21st Alzheimer’s Disease International Asia Pacific Regional Conference 2019 with a gathering of over 120 speakers from 25 countries and over 750 participants, hopes to make impactful progress to rally more Asia Pacific health ministries to act on formulating and implementing a national dementia action plan, in line with the WHO’s call to action from 2017 – 2025.

This year, for the first time a dedicated Youth Engagement Programme (YEP) on the cause of dementia was planned. The YEP serves as a platform for youth to be involved, to be heard, to voice their thoughts and share their experiences, to learn from and to get first-hand insights on topics outlined in the conference themes.

Datin Jacqueline Wong was invited by ADI to be the first Asia YEP Facilitator, guiding and mentoring 20 youth from the Asia Pacific region.

“It is indeed an honour and privilege to be tasked to facilitate a meaningful and important initiative for the youth,” she said.

An impressive line-up was presented over two interest-and-interaction-filled days. Youth presenting and participating were from Brunei, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Myanmar, Malaysia and many more from the Asia Pacific region.

“Youth perspectives, stories and community initiatives which have made an impact and difference to persons with dementia and their caregivers, family in their communities will have a significant impact for many of us too. We can learn from the youth,” said Datin Jacqueline.

Renowned presenters and educators from diverse backgrounds shared their experiences on inter-generational projects, BAFTA nominated programmes and Emmy award-winning docudramas on TV, YouTube, apps, Montessori. A story-telling competition also took place as part of a YEP Asia Pacific Region Project organised and chaired by Datin Jacqueline Wong.

In addition, two of dB’s DCS lead trainers were featured – Dr Lih Vei Onn, who presented on ‘Diagnostic Support in Brunei’ in the main Conference, and Dayang Maizatul Omar Ali, who delivered a presentation titled, ‘Expect the Unexpected: A Carer’s Journey, Youth Training in Dementia Care Skills and Towards a Dementia-friendly Nation Brunei Vision 2035 in the Asia Pacific Region YEP session.

Brunei Darussalam will host the Asia Pacific Regional Conference (APRC) in 2023.