Amy Little - The Biggest Challenge is Raising Awareness that Dementia is a Medical Condition

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Dec 07, 2017
by Oscar Tollast
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Amy Little - The Biggest Challenge is Raising Awareness that Dementia is a Medical Condition

Executive lead of Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA) speaks to Salzburg Global Amy Little at the Salzburg Global session, Changing Minds: Innovation in Dementia Care and Dementia-Friendly Communities

When Amy Little decided to attend the Salzburg Global session, Changing Minds: Innovation in Dementia Care and Dementia-Friendly Communities, she did so for one reason: “It’s a global session with people from all aspects of dementia and many different parts of the world, so that fits in perfectly with the work that I do…” she says, speaking in Schloss Leopoldskron's Robison Gallery.

Little leads the Alzheimer Society’s international work and is the executive lead of the Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA). The latter of the two is a network of international civil society organizations looking to champion global action on dementia. Its steering committee includes the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Disease International, Age International and Dementia Alliance International.

“The premise of the network is that after the G8 global action on dementia that was initiated in 2013, there was a realization that we needed to mainstream dementia, and we needed the non-dementia world to realize the global problem and how they could actually be part of the solution.”

The Alliance acts as a bridge connecting international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). Little says, “[They] could be from the disability sector, human rights, older people and aging, women's organizations, international development. [It’s] looking at that spectrum of INGOs to help them realize that dementia is a global problem and that actually it can be part of their agenda as well.”

GADAA works with these organizations to raise awareness around dementia and support advocacy efforts. Further down the line, the network is looking at ways it can disseminate tools and best practices to interested parties.

In her role at the Alzheimer’s Society, Little helps share the UK’s experience of dementia and forges partnerships with other countries “to take global action on dementia forward.” The Alzheimer Society supports the UK Department of Health as a delivery partner. Little says, “One example is the Global Dementia Friends Network. We are working with 27 countries who have or are in the process of developing Dementia Friends. We want that number to go beyond 27 obviously. We have shared our program and resources so other countries can adapt those.”

Various countries are at different stages of development when approaching dementia, which Little admits is a challenge. She says, “Sometimes I describe it as the elephant in the room. I come and talk about dementia, and at first, you get a blank face: ‘Why are you talking about dementia?’ There is still that stigma and assumption that dementia is a natural part of the aging process rather than a medical condition. The biggest challenge that we have is that awareness that dementia is a medical condition.”

Little says this challenge applies to every country, including those seen to be leading on dementia. “I have spoken to people from ministries of health who claim, ‘We don’t have this problem in our country.’ It is a big, big challenge we have got to meet.”

According to the World Health Organization, the number of new cases of dementia each year worldwide is nearly 7.7 million, suggesting one new case every four seconds. Last year, the Office for National Statistics revealed dementia was the leading cause of death in England and Wales in 2015. While data such as this highlights the impact of dementia, Little asks, “Why in that case don’t more people know about it?”

Speaking on the fifth day of the session, Little says she’s found the experience “very enriching” and is grateful for the time and space to talk more in-depth with her fellow participants. “It has gone too quickly,” she laughs. “Five days feels like a long time, but it has actually gone very, very quickly. It feels like there is so much more we can do and should be doing. It seems to me the purpose of the Salzburg sessions – or one of the purposes – is to foster those relationships that then more happens after as a result.”


The session, Changing Minds: Innovations in Dementia Care and Dementia-Friendly Communities, is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice and The Mayo Clinic. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.