As populations age, the prevalence of chronic diseases and related disabilities rises significantly. Thus, caring for the elderly, which entails coping with chronic diseases and disabilities, promoting prevention, and helping with end-of-life decisions, is a major challenge for the health and social services today. Dementia is one of the “geriatric giants” – a term coined by the late Prof. Bernard Isaacs to highlight the major illnesses associated with aging (Isaacs, 1976).
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are degenerative diseases affecting the brain and causing irreversible, progressive cognitive and functional deterioration. The early symptoms are loss of memory, impaired thinking ability, and impaired orientation. Gradually, there is also a loss of ability to perform daily activities and communicate with the surroundings. As the disease progresses, cognitive deficiencies are accompanied by functional, behavioral and psychological symptoms. Dementia is one of the main causes of disability among the elderly (OECD, 2012), and is viewed as one of the most distressing and devastating of conditions that has great impact on those who suffer from it, and on the family members who care for them. Dementia also has a significant financial impact on society and poses a challenge for the health and social service systems. As a result, there is a broad worldwide consensus that there is a need for a systemic response to the implications of the aging of the population, in general, and to the rise in dementia, in particular. According to a report by WHO and Alzheimer’s Disease International (WHO, 2012), “Population aging is having a profound impact on the emergence of the global dementia epidemic, influencing awareness and driving demand for services”.
Many countries, including the UK, France, Scotland, Norway, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, Canada and the US have developed national strategic plans and other countries are in the process of doing so. Recently, Israel has joined these countries by developing a national strategic plan for dealing with the challenges posed by the disease, as presented in this document. The plan was formulated by an interdisciplinary group composed of experts from government ministries (health, social affairs and services, national insurance, and senior citizens), health plans, hospitals, JDC-Eshel, non-profit organizations (Emda and Melabev), and leading academics. The process was headed by the Center for Research on Aging at the Myers-JDC Brookdale Institute (MJB) and the National Geriatric Council, with the support of the Helen Bader Foundation.
The vision of the strategic plan is to enable people with dementia and their families – through a broad array of easily accessible, high-standard supports and services – to live as full, independent and dignified lives as possible. The plan recognizes the need to address dementia from the stages of prevention of risk factors and early detection, to diagnosis and patient care, and through assurance of quality of end of life. It proposes to do so by implementing interdisciplinary work principles and care, and boosting the coordination and cooperation of all the parties involved.