De­men­tia needs gen­der-aware poli­cies

Dubbo Photo News - - Council Watch -

IT used to be that heart dis­ease killed more Aus­tralian women than any­thing else. In the last few years how­ever, it has found a very ag­gres­sive ri­val which hasn’t just moved to the top of the list, but is rapidly widen­ing the gap be­tween first and sec­ond place.

Lat­est data from the Aus­tralian Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics con­firm that more women in Aus­tralia die from de­men­tia, and in par­tic­u­lar Alzheimer’s (AD). The same has hap­pened in Bri­tain.

What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s Dis­ease (AD)?

De­men­tia is the broad term to de­scribe a set of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases. Just as we say “can­cer”, yet there are over 100 types of can­cer; we say “de­men­tia” to en­com­pass over 100 dis­eases which present as a de­men­tia.

AD is the most com­mon type of de­men­tia. It is not a men­tal ill­ness, but a phys­i­cal dis­ease as deadly and cun­ning as can­cer.

While a can­cer may take a life in a mat­ter of weeks, de­men­tia can take over a decade.

AD is brain dam­age which oc­curs when the brain’s abil­ity to nat­u­rally process a protein found in all our brains, called beta-amy­loid, col­lects into clumps form­ing plaques, which in­ter­rupt or block nor­mal brain sig­nals, and con­se­quently, abil­i­ties such as me­mory.

It’s not known if the beta-amy­loid plaque causes AD, or whether the clus­ters in the brain are a re­sult from the dis­ease’s process.

Re­searchers do know that mu­ta­tions in “APP”, a pre­cur­sor protein which forms beta-amy­loid plaque, causes early on­set AD.

Alzheimer’s is not a nor­mal part of ag­ing.

So, it’s a pop­u­lar myth – or brush off – to say, ‘well, we’re all get­ting older’, as if to die pre­ma­turely in the twi­light years of your life is some­how ‘okay’ or ‘nor­mal’.

That kind of ageism (and in the con­text of women’s health, it can be ar­gued as sex­ism as well) is a block­age of its own to find­ing a cure.

Glob­ally, all the worlds’ lead­ing de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing our own peak body, De­men­tia Aus­tralia, cat­e­gor­i­cally state that de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s is not a nat­u­ral part of ag­ing.

Women have al­ways got old, and sta­tis­ti­cally have al­ways lived longer than men, but to­day less are dy­ing from car­diac ill­nesses and ex­po­nen­tially more from neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.

Dis­eases have never be­fore been re­garded as nor­mal or nat­u­ral, so why Alzheimer’s?

De­men­tia is a women’s health is­sue.

A study in the UK has found de­spite the dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of women af­fected by Alzheimer’s there’s a broad re­luc­tance to talk about it as a women’s is­sue.

Just as the fight against breast can­cer has taken on loud, in­sis­tent pro­por­tions, so too should the fight by women for women against de­men­tia and in par­tic­u­lar Alzheimer’s. But it’s just not hap­pen­ing.

The de­mand for a cure by women for women, just isn’t there.

Women’s ex­pe­ri­ences are strik­ingly ab­sent from re­search which in turn cre­ates gen­der-blind pol­icy.

There is real op­por­tu­nity here for a whole-so­ci­ety re­think of de­men­tia in terms of the ex­pe­ri­ence of women, not only as peo­ple liv­ing with the dis­ease, but also the high num­ber of women who care for them and the kind of sup­port they in turn need.

In 2015, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion held its first Min­is­te­rial Con­fer­ence on Global Ac­tion Against De­men­tia which found most coun­tries are in­ad­e­quately or not at all deal­ing with the high im­pact de­men­tia has on women.

Alzheimer’s Dis­ease In­ter­na­tional re­leased a re­port re­cently called “Women and De­men­tia: A Global Re­search Re­view”.

It found there is lit­tle ev­i­dence glob­ally of pol­icy be­ing put into place and ac­tioned in re­sponse to the dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of women af­fected.

There are great hopes in the Royal Com­mis­sion into the Aged Care In­dus­try, and that its out­comes will mean stan­dards of care and pro­tec­tions are raised.

For out­comes to be gen­der driven, and fo­cus­ing on women’s needs, there is op­por­tu­nity here for women to de­fend the rights of women who live now with de­men­tia, who care for some­one with de­men­tia, but also to es­tab­lish women-cen­tric pol­icy for them­selves – and their daugh­ters – around a dis­ease which is a women’s health is­sue, glob­ally.

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