Nation raises funds for dementia care

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UPDATED: Around 100,000 Norwegians rang doorbells all over the country on Sunday to solicit funds for better dementia care and for more research to help fight brain disease and memory loss. Immigrants are among those facing special needs if they become ill, because they risk losing the Norwegian language skills they learned as adults.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) was once again backing the annual national fundraising drive for a social cause, called TV-aksjonen. The recipient selected this year was the national association for public health (Nasjonalforegningen for folkehelsen), a volunteer, humanitarian organization that fights heart disease and dementia.

‘No time to lose’
The campaign was entitled “Ingen tid å miste” (No time to lose) and it aimed to help not only those suffering from dementia but also their families, who go through the trauma of feeling like they’re losing a loved one long before they die. Response was enormous, with some communities reporting donor rates twice what they were last year – perhaps because so many people have personal experience with dementia among friends and family, and can relate to the heartbreak around it. Fundraisers reported hearing many personal experiences as they met donors on Sunday.

The small community of Utsira in Rogaland, western Norway, ended up giving the most on a per capita basis and by Monday morning, NRK reported that more than NOK 224 million (almost USD 40 million) had been collected nationwide, with money still coming in. The amount set a new record, with the public health officials speculating that  dementia concerns and touches many people, prompting them to dig deeper into their wallets. “Maybe some people also hope they can contribute to some breakthroughs before we risk becoming dement,” one fundraiser told newsinenglish.no.

Around 70,000 persons are diagnosed with dementia in Norway every year, not all of them elderly. More patients are beginning to suffer memory loss in early middle age, creating special challenges and the prospect of long-term illness. Money raised on Sunday will help fund research into causes and prevention and break down myths around the disease, not least within the country’s immigrant community.

Norway’s first generation of immigrants, mostly from central and south Asia, are now becoming elderly, and more of them dement. Many come from countries where life spans are shorter than in Norway and dementia isn’t a major issue. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported last week that in Norway, they live longer and dementia thus becomes more prevalent.

Losing language skills
The biggest challenge for them, their families and support systems in Norway is that they often lose their ability to speak Norwegian. “They have learned Norwegian relatively late in life, and it disappears when they become ill,” Bernadette Kumar of the National Competence Center for Minorities Health told Dagsavisen.

Short-term memory loss is among the first symptoms of dementia, and it’s not unusual for patients to remember skills and people from their childhoods or youth, but not from their recent lives as older adults. That’s why language skills learned later in life can fade away.

Kumar said that dementia is also considered shameful or mystifying in many cultures. “Folks don’t understand what’s going on, and then they won’t talk about it,” agreed Meenakshi Johar of the Grünerløkka Sykehjem in Oslo.

That’s why patient care, in the face of a lack of treatment, is so important, yet nursing homes are often understaffed in Norway, patients can be over-medicated and don’t get enough attention. Families with members suffering from dementia who still live at home find themselves needing to watch over them 24 hours a day. Much of the funds raised on Sunday will go towards programs to help such families, with more respite care offers and more support systems for them.

More than NOK 205 million already had streamed in by late Sunday night. Some claimed the state needs to provide more funding as well, but many were glad the dementia issue had been singled out for the TV-aksjonen. At least one fund-raiser going door-to-door on Sunday said people were donating generously, stuffing mostly NOK 200 and NOK 500 notes (USD 33-85) into her collection box.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund