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BAME dementia: a crisis in the making in Wales? | Blog

– A blog by our researcher – Dr Gisele Almeida – 

Dementia is a challenging health issue for Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities in Wales. Older people with Asian Indian, Black African and Caribbean backgrounds are more likely to develop dementia and at a younger age than White British and other minority ethnic people. The number of people of Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic backgrounds affected by dementia is expected to rise significantly in the coming years, at a faster rate than among the White British population.

Diagnosis often comes at a more advanced stage of the illness in Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic patients, even though people from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities are more likely to experience risk factors associated with dementia such as diabetes and heart conditions. The take-up of dementia support services also tends to be lower among minority groups. This can be due to cultural views around care and old age, misinformation about dementia, or mistrust of services based on the perception that existing support is not fully aware of how to deal with patients from diverse backgrounds.

For members of Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities, the external and internal challenges brought by dementia can feel overwhelming. Externally, Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic people can face institutional racism and inequality when accessing care and support services. Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic people with dementia are often absent from research, which can lead to a failure in catering for the existing cultural diversity in the country, for example offering care services that do not offer options suitable for the existing range of personal, dietary, physical, spiritual, leisure and social requirements of individuals from diverse groups.

This can happen despite knowledge that people from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities experience specific internal barriers when dealing with dementia and can lack relevant information. It is not uncommon for communities to hold outdated perceptions of the illness, seeing it as a normal part of ageing, or that patients should be cared for by relatives at home rather than by health and social care professionals. Also, in many cultures mental illness carries a stigma, which can lead to shame, guilt, and denial. This leads to delays in patient diagnosis and access to care and support services.

Dementia prevention

Eat well. A “brain-healthy” diet can reduce the risk of developing dementia: low in cholesterol, saturated fat, sugar, and salt, and high in dietary fibres, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, other complex carbohydrates, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Exercise your body. Physical activity doesn’t have to be overly strenuous or involve a huge time commitment to generate benefits. The most important thing is that it is done on a regular basis (e.g. 30 minutes of walk a day can be sufficient for a preventive effect).

Exercise your brain. Keeping the brain active through mental exercise increases and strengthens connections between brain cells and builds up “cognitive reserve”.

The key is to add novelty to your experiences by learning and doing new things to keep the mind sharp and promote a healthy brain.

Engage with others. Being involved with family and friends can lower your risk of dementia. Social activities that combine physical and mental activity are most effective. Get involved in volunteer activities, join clubs, and participate in your local community.

Wales can lead the way forward

Diverse Cymru is devoted to increasing awareness and build capacity to tackle dementia among Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities. Our Mental Health Manager, Suzanne Duval was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2018 for her 30 years of work improving the mental health of Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities in Wales. She leads our  Dementia Project and a Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities young people’s mental health project, supporting youth to talk about and improve their own mental health and wellbeing in Wales.

With this wealth of experience, we actively campaign for:

– More research by service providers into how Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic people in Wales experience dementia.

– Service provision to be patient-centred and respect the dignity of the person with dementia, ensuring that services reflect the diversity of Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities, including age and gender.

– More information on dementia and dementia related services to be provided, in a range of formats (not only digital) and languages, reflecting the diversity of Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities.

– Best practice and high-quality care for people with dementia to be consistent across service providers.

– More support for carers, particularly those caring for family members with dementia.

Progress can only be made if statutory, private and third sector service providers work together, with Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic people, to ensure that dementia services are accessible, inclusive, fair and equal for everyone.

Resources and Publications

Let’s talk about dementia – end the stigma (2019) https://www.diversecymru.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Lets-talk-about-dementia-report-for-web.pdf

As I walk the last mile of the way (2021) https://www.diversecymru.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/AS-I-WALK-THE-LAST-MILE-OF-THE-WAY-Dementia-Report-2021-JS-Edits-Final.pdf

Some early signs of dementia (2021) https://www.diversecymru.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/J18528-Diverse-Cymru-A4-Flyer_v2.pdf