Dementia in Denmark: looking for solutions to a growing problem

Odense Municipality leading the way with its ‘City of Life’ initiative

Associated with a decline in mental abilities, including impairments in thinking, communicating and memory, Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, is one of the top five diseases causing death to Danes.

According to the Health and Medicines Authority, some 1,000 men and 2,100 women are killed by the disease every year, which corresponds to 4 and 8 percent of all deaths among men and women respectively.

Each year, the treatment of and care for patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementia illnesses costs the state an estimated 780 million kroner.

Nursing homes struggling
Researchers predict the number of people suffering from some form of dementia will rise because the Danish population is rapidly growing older.

Currently, the Dementia Research Centre at Rigshopital estimates 93,000 Danes have dementia, of which 50,000 suffer from Alzheimer’s. This number is projected to grow to 164,000 by 2040.

Meanwhile, traditional nursing homes in Denmark are struggling to accommodate the needs of the growing number of people suffering from dementia.

That is why municipalities across the country are looking into new progressive solutions that could help solve the problem.

Among them, Odense Municipality has announced plans to build a city district entirely aimed at people with dementia.

Alternative city for life
‘City For Life’ will house between 200 and 300 people and provide residents with everything they might need to live out the rest of their lives in a fulfilling way.

The district will be run and co-financed by the OK Fonden Foundation, which is highly experienced at providing care to patients with Alzheimer’s.

Odense Municipality is already in negotiations about purchasing land for City for Life. However, the exact plans – the design of the city and what specific services will be provided – are still up for discussion.

“We are not trying to build a replica of Hogewey from the Netherlands but want to create our own version of a township specifically designed for people with dementia,” Brian Skov Nielsen, a councillor at Odense Municipality, told the Weekly Post.

“We are currently researching everything about dementia, talking to people who suffer from the disease and to their relatives, trying to learn as much as possible about their needs and preferences.”

Becoming a role model
According to Dr Paul Newhouse from Vanderbilt University’s Centre for Cognitive Medicine, environmental approaches to reducing both cognitive and behavioural problems associated with dementia are key to improving the quality of life of the patients.

The municipality expects the first residents to move into City for Life at the end of 2018.

Odense also plans to become the city where researchers, caregivers and practitioners from all over the world come to learn about dementia as the municipality hopes to build up expertise through co-operations with the local university and colleges.

“We would like to take the services for people with dementia one step further,” Nielsen noted.

New national strategy
Meanwhile, the health minister, Sophie Løhde, announced a new national strategy for managing dementia in conjunction with World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21.

The strategy is scheduled to run until 2025 and aims to speed up the diagnostic process so that patients can begin treatment sooner, thus helping relatives in their day-to-day lives.

“Dementia is a terrible illness that completely changes the lives of sufferers and their relatives. People struck by dementia don’t just lose their past, but also often their relationships with a spouse, children, grandchildren, friends and acquaintances, and that’s a tragedy for the whole family,” Løhde said.

The budget for the strategy will be finalised by the autumn of 2016 and will run into hundreds of million kroner.

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