Public Health and Dementia

May 11, 2020 | Research

The field of public health is dedicated to promoting general health, preventing disease, prolonging life, and improving quality of life for the population as a whole. Traditionally, public health has not always included an emphasis on dementia, as it was seen as a niche issue affecting a small portion of the population. This is changing due to the growing numbers of older adults in the world and growing number of people with dementia or affected by dementia.  

Dementia impacts the health of the community in many ways. First, it obviously causes significant cognitive impairment and death in those who have a dementia related disease. So much so, that Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the nation. Second, it has an impact on the physical and mental health of people who care for someone with dementia. Third, it incurs large health care and long-term care costs for individuals, health systems, insurers, and public programs.  

Getting the public health profession more involved in dementia can help in several ways. Public health professionals can promote healthy behaviors that reduce the risk of dementia, promote early diagnosis and intervention for those who are seeing signs, and help normalize the dementia conversation so individuals and families are more likely to seek help when necessary.  

A joint initiative between the CDC and the Alzheimer’s Association has released guidance for the public health field called the Healthy Brain Initiative, State and Local Public Health Partnerships to Address Dementia: The 2018-2023 Road Map. The goal in publishing this Road Map is to guide public health agencies and others to promote cognitive health, address cognitive impairment, and meet the needs of caregivers.  

The Roadmap outlines many actions that can be taken to address the needs of people with dementia and their caregivers through a public health lens. These actions are organized into four broad categories: 

  1. Educate and Empower 
  2. Develop Policies and Mobilize Partnerships 
  3. Assure a Competent Workforce 
  4. Monitor and Evaluate 

Broadly, educating and empowering describes actions taken to normalize conversations about brain health and decline, reduce false beliefs about dementia, and broadly distribute information, education, and tools to help those affected by dementia. Policies and partnerships incorporates strategies to train health professionals to address dementia, educate policymakers about the public needs related to dementia, and improve quality measures to better define the needs. A competent workforce promotes educational curriculum for health care professionals and promotes cognitive assessments and early diagnosis. Monitoring and evaluating involves producing reports and briefs with the most recent data on cognitive decline and caregiver health.  

Rethinking Dementia thanks the CDC and the Alzheimer’s Association for their work in this endeavor, as dementia affects more than just a few of us, it affects most of us. More education and awareness, broader use of effective interventions, and access to early diagnosis and treatment is critical for the health of our nation when it comes to dementia.  To this end, Rethinking Dementia is pleased to be a part of the Michigan Dementia Coalition which has published its own Roadmap for a Dementia Capable Michigan, which can be viewed here