Women carry weight of global dementia crisis

Women carry weight of global dementia crisis

The impact of dementia is much greater for women than men the world over, a new report released by the Global Alzheimer’s & Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA) reveals.

8 March 2017

Women & Dementia: A Global Challenge reports that dementia is listed by the World Health Organisation in the top ten causes of death for women worldwide and is now the biggest cause of death for women in the UK, yet only twelve countries offer gender-sensitive responses to the disease.

Every three seconds someone in the world develops dementia. Globally, 47.5 million people have dementia, with 9.9 million new cases every year. Throughout the world, women are experiencing higher dementia prevalence rates than men and face gender-specific barriers to living well with the disease.

On Thursday 2 March, in the lead up to International Women’s Day 2017, GADAA convened NGO women’s specialists, dementia experts, the World Health Organisation and others at an event to preview the new report and drive forward global action on dementia from a gender perspective.

Kate Swaffer, CEO of Dementia Alliance International, spoke on the panel at the event. Kate was diagnosed with younger onset dementia in 2008, at the age of 49. She said:

Too often women affected by dementia are overlooked and unsupported. It hasn’t been easy for me, nor is it for the millions of other women that live with dementia, who support someone living with dementia or that make up most of the undervalued and underpaid care workforce worldwide.”

The report finds that women provide the majority of both unpaid and formal care to people living with dementia. Two thirds of primary carers worldwide are female, rising to more than 70% in lower and middle income countries. Carers of people living with the condition often have to make changes to their employment situation and women are more likely than men to reduce their hours to part-time, or stop work completely, to provide care to those living with dementia.

Jeremy Hughes, GADAA Chair and CEO of Alzheimer’s Society (UK), said:

“Our report shows that dementia is a global women’s health, social care and rights issue that can no longer be ignored. Dementia is in crisis and women bear the brunt – governments must work together to tackle this crisis now.”

The stigma surrounding dementia exists universally and extreme forms of discrimination can lead to abuse. The report, which compiles published research on the condition, highlights that older women with dementia are facing a so-called ‘triple jeopardy’ – discriminated against because of their sex, age and medical condition. Chris Roles, Managing Director of Age International said:

Abuse against women can occur at any age yet older women’s experiences are frequently discounted. For example, the Sustainable Development Goal target to eliminate all forms of violence against women has only included data on women over the age of 49 since February 2016.”

The GADAA report is revealing not just in its findings of discrimination and stigma faced by women affected by dementia worldwide, but in the lack of gender-based research or responses. Marc Wortmann, Executive Director of Alzheimer’s Disease International said:

Responses that do consider the role of gender emerge mainly from national dementia strategies developed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The absence of clear gender-perspectives points to the vital significance of women-focused NGOs collaborating with dementia specialists and government policy-makers to mainstream gender-equality into future responses.”

GADAA is a network of international civil society organisations coordinated by Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Disease International, Age International and Dementia Alliance International.

Members of the GADAA network are urging the adoption of a Global Action Plan on Dementia being put before WHO Member States at the 70th World Health Assembly in May. Under the plan governments will be expected to collect and disaggregate data on dementia by sex for the first time. The plan sets out strategic action areas and a set of recommended actions which include a gender-sensitive approach to improve the care, quality of life and prospects of people living with dementia and their families.

Download Women & Dementia: A Global Challenge

Key findings

  • Dementia is listed by the World Health Organisation in the top ten causes of death for women worldwide and is now the biggest cause of death for women in the UK.
  • Throughout the world, women experience higher dementia prevalence rates than men and face gender-specific barriers to living well with the condition.
  • Women provide the vast majority of both unpaid and formal care to people living with dementia, with around two thirds of primary caregivers around the globe being women, rising to more than 70% in lower and middle income countries.
  • The stigma surrounding dementia exists universally and extreme forms of discrimination can lead to the abuse of women. Older women affected by conditions such as dementia are exposed to what has been termed a ‘triple jeopardy’ discriminated against as a result of their age, sex and condition.
  • A recent UK study identified that women living with dementia are more likely than men to be prescribed psychotropic medication that can negatively affect their physical health.
  • In the US, 20% of female care partners have gone from working full-time to part-time, compared with only 3% of working male caregivers. 19% of working women care partners had to leave work to provide dementia care in the US.
  • Yet of the 29 countries in the world with a national plan to tackle the disease, only 12 offer gender-sensitive responses. There is also no systematic data collection to disaggregate the prevalence, diagnosis rates or impact of dementia on women.

Contact: Amy Little – Executive Lead – Global Alzheimer’s & Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA) | T: +44 (0)207 423 7360  M: +44 (0)7484 093415 |Via email

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