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Black Britons urged to tackle a 'silent epidemic'

SILENT EPIDEMIC: Dementia is seen by is seen in some sections of the African-Caribbean community as a normal part of ageing

THERE ARE some health experts who have described dementia as the ‘silent epidemic’ facing black and minority ethnic (BME) communities.

Despite the fact that there are a significant number of people from BME backgrounds who are affected by the disease, it has not received the same profile that other health issues have, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Dementia is seen in some sections of the African-Caribbean community as a normal part of ageing and medical terms are not used to describe the condition. However, it is more typical to hear comments and words like ‘not with it’, ‘crazy old-timers’ and ‘senile’ whenever the disease is mentioned.

Estimates from the World Health Organisation suggest that somebody in the world develops dementia every four seconds.

Dementia Friends, an initiative set up to raise greater awareness of dementia and tackle these negative attitudes was launched recently by Prime Minister David Cameron.


The group, which will be run by the Alzheimer’s Society, wants to encourage a million volunteers to participate in training and workshops aimed at enabling them to recognise the signs of the illness. The training will allow them to help people they know who are affected by dementia such as family, friends or colleagues. On completion of the course, they will be awarded a special ‘forget-me-not’ badge.

AMBITION: Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive Jeremy Hughes

Dementia Friends is based on a Japanese project called the Nationwide Caravan To Train Ninchisho (Dementia) Supporters, which has seen three million people there trained up to help dementia sufferers.

Although the £2.4m initiative has been launched in England, it is hoped that one million people across Britain will sign up to the programme by 2015.

Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive Jeremy Hughes, said: “Dementia Friends is not about a million token gestures. It’s about rallying a million people from all corners of England to help make a better life for people with dementia. This is a huge ambition, but we are confident we can not only meet it but beat it. Dementia is everyone’s problem and we all need to be part of the solution.”

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, currently affects around 700,000 people. Alzheimer’s Disease International, a worldwide federation of Alzheimer’s associations, predicted in its landmark report on stigma and dementia that the disease will affect 682 million people in the next 40 years.

DEBATE NEEDED: Dr Stephanie Johnson

Neurophsychologist Dr Stephanie Johnson, founder of the International Dementia Research Foundation in the USA and a pioneer in raising awareness among BME groups, explained: “There is a misconception that it only affects white people. The only way that we can get around this is by educating people and it’s critical.”


Estimates show there are at least 11,000 people from BME communities with dementia in the UK and just over 6 percent of all people with dementia among these groups are under 65. According to research, African Caribbeans are one of the groups most at risk from vascular dementia.

However health campaigners believe that Dementia Friends could play a key role in reducing these numbers by targeted awareness raising campaigns and information.

Johnson said: “You need to tell the facts, you need to be hard but you don't want to alienate anybody. It’s about empowering people with knowledge. It’s not a message of doom and gloom but a message of encouragement.”

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