As we stood in line waiting to go into the opening session of the Alzheimer Europe conference, we chatted with the President of the Slovakian Alzheimer's Association who had been on the plane from Frankfurt with us, meaning that he, too, had no luggage. He said he'd heard that 15,000 people today got separated from their stuff because of a broken conveyor belt at the airport. Unlike us, he assumed he could bill the airline for the new jacket that he purchased when he got to the hotel.
The opening remarks were overly long and repetitive (how many people have dementia in Europe; how many will have it by 2050) but that perception could have been a function of our sleep-deprivation. There were some highlights, however. The president of Malta spoke with pride of the strides they've made here to establish adult day services, educational programs, and support for innovative long term care activities. He also talked frankly about the economic strains all European countries are experiencing, especially in the realm of health care for elders, but he declared that Malta will continue to promote programs that combat feelings of marginalization and isolation. He and Malta's Minister for Family and Social Solidarity both emphasized the need for more holistic approaches to health care, participation of older adults (including those with dementia) in policy discussions, and the fact that all the national plans being developed in the European Union must address social needs and quality of life. The keynote address by the E.U. Deputy Director of Health and Consumers contrasted reactive disease management with health policies that encourage active, healthy aging. While moving to find ways to prevent frailty and functional decline, policy makers must refute the common complaint of aging being a burden on societies. Here's an equation we wish more U.S. politicians embraced: investments in citizens' health = investments in the economy.
After the speeches, we went outside to a reception lit by tiny white lights in palm trees by a big blue swimming pool with the Mediterranean in the background. A couple glasses of white wine, a few tasty hors d'oeuvres, and several intense conversations with people from New Zealand, Oregon, Switzerland, and Germany left us ready to get some sleep in preparation for a busy day tomorrow.