Digital fight against dementia

Azlan Othman

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently held a workshop to guide the development of a digital toolkit, which included public health messages both in the area of dementia risk reduction and caregiver support.

The workshop was held with members of the Informal Expert Group (IEG). The Honorary Advisor of Demensia Brunei (dB) Datin Jacqueline Wong said the role and support of young carers must be highlighted in the toolkit.

Other than a difference in age and ‘maturity’, young carers, like many adult carers of people living with disability (PLWDs), face challenges and need support in the form of education on dementia, resources, connecting with other caregivers and increasing their accessibility to support channels.

“The WHO was looking for content from people with dementia and/or carers from low- to middle-income countries (LMIC) related to the experience of dementia and caregiving,” Datin Wong said.

In response, she submitted personal accounts and testimonials by people living with dementia and/or their carers to provide support to participants who do not have experience with dementia.

Datin Wong added that the Youth Engagement Programme (YEP) was introduced in the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference (APRC) in Malaysia in 2019, followed by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) in 2020 in Singapore in hopes that with further awareness, dementia care support and DFC initiatives will include more youth involvement.

She highlighted that dB’s efforts showed the importance of youth involvement, support and impact on the community with collaboration from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports and Ministry of Health as part of the whole-of-nation approach.

The honorary advisor also noted that WHO recently launched the mDementia handbook, which is a new guide on mobile technology for health (mHealth) interventions for dementia risk reduction and carer support.

The mDementia programme will complement existing health and social care offered by informal carers, healthcare professionals and civil society service providers.

The handbook provides guidance on how to develop, integrate, implement and evaluate a national mDementia programme in five key areas: operations management; content development and adaptation; promotion, participation and retention; technology specifications; and monitoring and evaluation.

‘Be He@lthy, Be Mobile’ is a global initiative led by the WHO and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), based on the use of mHealth to address diseases and health issues such as smoking, diabetes, ageing, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases.

An estimated 50 million people live with dementia worldwide, and with approximately 10 million new cases every year, dementia is projected to affect 152 million people by 2050. It is a major cause of disability and care dependency among older adults, and impacts every aspect of a person’s life.

There also continues to be much stigma and discrimination against people with dementia and their carers, heightening the already significant psychological, social, emotional and financial impacts of dementia on families and communities.

To help address these issues, ‘Be He@lthy, Be Mobile’ has developed the mDementia programme that uses mHealth, whereby devices such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants and other wireless devices are used to support medical and public health practice, to provide health information to those at risk of developing dementia and to support carers of people living with dementia.

The reach of dementia prevention campaigns and caregiver support activities may be drastically enhanced with the use of mHealth.