Developing Israel’s National Dementia Strategy

With life expectancy increasing, there is growing international concern about what the World Health Organization is calling the “global dementia epidemic.”

In June, UK Prime Minister David Cameron proposed that the G-8 adopt a global plan to deal with dementia, emphasizing its economic and health challenges. “Families, communities, health systems and their budgets will increasingly be strained as the number affected increases,” Cameron explained.

In Israel, about 150,000 individuals or almost one in five people age 65 and older (and almost one in two people over age 85) already has dementia.  These numbers are expected to rise dramatically to almost 350,000 individuals by 2035, thanks in part to Israel’s above-average life expectancy and projections that the Israeli elderly population will double in that time.

MJB is at the forefront of helping Israel to meet this challenge.  As early as 2005, we put the issue on the table, with the first comprehensive national study of the extent of dementia among Israeli elderly.

Recognizing MJB’s expertise, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Helen Bader Foundation provided funding to support the preparation of Israel’s first national strategic plan for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

To prepare the plan, MJB convened a forum of experts from the relevant government ministries, health care organizations, JDC-ESHEL, and consumer groups.  As background for the forum, MJB extensively reviewed how other countries  developed national strategies.  In addition, interviews were held with leading Israeli policy makers and service providers.  The result was a comprehensive strategy with recommendations related to public awareness, community health and social service networks, family support, end-of-life care, professional training and education, and research.

In early May, the National Council on Geriatrics and Aging held a special session with the participation of the Ministry of Health’s Director General, Prof. Ronni Gamzu.  The Council and the Director General endorsed the strategic plan.  Then, at a special meeting of the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, the Ministry officially endorsed the plan and committed initial funds to support its implementation.  MJB has since been asked to accompany the work of the committee mandated to proceed with the implementation.

As a first step in promoting public awareness of the plan, a national conference will be held in October in collaboration with the National Council on Aging.

Prof. Gamzu, who is also a member of MJB’s Board of Directors, described the national strategic plan as the “perfect test of how the health care system confronts the growing complexity of the problems of the elderly, which have physical, mental, and social dimensions, and which pose particular challenges for families.”  The process of creating a national strategy will become, he hopes, a model for finding comprehensive, integrated solutions to other age-related health challenges.

The story of MJB’s leadership in developing this national strategic plan is a classic example of how the Institute has worked ever since its founding in 1974.  With its team of researchers working closely with government and national health and social service leaders, MJB brought attention to a critical social issue, helped to build a broad consensus around that issue, and helped to develop an integrated, long-term strategy for government implementation.

This could not have been possible without the partnership of the Bader Foundation, long involved in the efforts to address the challenges of dementia. both in its home state of Wisconsin and in Israel.  Echoing Israel’s new National Strategy, the Foundation is working to build a Wisconsin-wide model of organizational collaboration that supports the elderly and their families through program development, education and training, applied research, and public policy. It is also continuing its involvement in these issues in Israel.

This is also an example of how shared efforts and professional exchange between Israel and the global Jewish community can benefit the Israeli social service system.