Twice Estranged: Migration and Dementia

All across Europe, there are people living with dementia who also have a migrant background, and thus special needs. But is the situation the same everywhere in Europe? That is the question experts have been researching with the support of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. One result is the “EU Atlas: Dementia & Migration”.

Alexandra Wolters | June 2021
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By 2030, up to 14 million people in Europe could be living with dementia.

In 2010, there were around ten million people living with dementia across Europe. Experts expect this figure to increase by around 40 percent by 2030 to a total of 14 million. Europe has a strong history of migration, with people immigrating from countries both within and outside of the continent into the countries of Europe. As such, this syndrome is also affecting more and more elderly people with a migrant background. This often poses major challenges, both for those affected and their families.  

Memories from childhood and youth prevail 

Many people with a migrant background who go on to develop dementia forget the language they learned in their new home country and are often able to communicate only in their native language. In addition, their surroundings often become increasingly foreign, as people with dementia predominantly remember their childhood and youth. Many people with a migrant background spent this period of their lives in their original home country and, as a result, they feel particularly alienated in their present cultural environment. 

These people struggle to access medical information and care as well as treatment and care services, as culturally sensitive and multilingual medical care for people with dementia is not a given in Europe. This was demonstrated by research conducted by the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in collaboration with Alzheimer Europe.

Figures and data from 35 countries

To improve the situation both for people with a migrant background living with dementia as well as for their families, it is first necessary to ascertain prevalence in the individual countries, and to know where those affected originally come from. To date, however, there have been no surveys or studies on the topic. For that reason, the Robert Bosch Stiftung launched a research project which the DZNE, under the leadership of Dr. Jochen René Thyrian, started in 2019. Over a period of two years, researchers collected figures, data, and documents from 35 countries in Europe, calculated estimates, and conducted interviews with experts. The multiprofessional team of researchers recorded the results of their work over more than 500 pages and 248 maps in the “EU Atlas: Dementia and Migration”. 

Large numbers affected in Germany and France

In 2019, it was estimated that around 475,000 people with both dementia and a migrant background were living in the countries of the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The atlas shows the distribution of prevalence across individual countries. For instance, a particularly large number of those affected live in Germany (137,300) and France (99,400), while Switzerland and Luxembourg top the group in terms of ratio per 100,000 inhabitants. The DZNE research team also considered the national dementia plans now in place in the majority of European countries. However, very few of these plans include references to special care services for people with a migrant background. Of the countries studied, Norway stands out by offering, for example, multilingual examinations for people with dementia.

The atlas plugs a gap in the research

The “EU Atlas: Dementia and Migration” provides an overview of the distribution of people with both a migrant background and living with dementia in Europe, as well as how the topic is accounted for in individual national dementia plans and what services are available for those affected. “The atlas plugs a gap in the research,” stated Dr. Bernadette Klapper on the publication’s release date of June 29. She added that it lays the foundations for transnational exchange between representatives from the fields of politics, academia, and health care practice. The hope now is that best practice examples will set a precedent for improving the situation in Europe, both for people with a migrant background and living with dementia as well as for their families.

EU-Atlas: Dementia & Migration

For people with a migration background who are affected by dementia, access to medical information, medical care and...