Improving the lives of people with dementia and old-age depression


People with dementia struggle to function in simple ways in their daily lives.

In a bid to improve the lives of people suffering from dementia and old-age depression, local authorities in parts of the WHO European Region have begun combining public health and various social services to better support the active and healthy ageing of their senior communities. On the occasion of World Alzheimer’s Day on 21 September, we highlight an initiative in the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion (EMR).

The Senior Friendly Communities Project, which builds upon the WHO global and European strategies and action plans on healthy ageing and the Age-friendly environments in Europe (AFEE) framework and policy tools, trains local policy-makers in strategy development, local public health interventions, cross-border collaborations, and people-centred approaches for the care and well-being of their elder populations.

The project is implemented by the EMR Foundation, which supports cross-border cooperation between professionals and organizations engaged in maintaining, promoting and improving public health for residents of the EMR.

Cooperation is tailored to the needs of older people and utilizes an integrated approach that combines health and other municipal services, adapted to the specific needs of the local community. The EMR cross-border region includes parts of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands

“Local authorities and the communities they serve have a key role to play in developing and implementing evidence-based interventions to improve the well-being of people with dementia and old-age depression, and their informal caregivers,” said Brigitte van der Zanden, Director of euPrevent, EMR Foundation.

As elsewhere in the European Region, the EMR has an aging population and an increasing prevalence of dementia (about 2%) and old-age depression (about 25%). With an overall population of about 4 million people, local authorities and professionals are working to improve the lives of their elder communities.

Key activities municipalities can choose from include:

  • multiple strategy workshops for local policy-makers on how to develop a strategic plan focusing on local public health campaigns, intersectoral action and cross-border collaboration that contribute to the well-being of people with dementia and old-age depression;
  • training of well-being coaches who work closely with primary care physicians;
  • outreach activities offered by trained volunteers to socially isolated older people;
  • educational sessions on ageing, positive health, communicating with people with dementia and on empowering family caregivers;
  • creation of local social networks of older people;
  • education in primary schools on dementia and depression;
  • cultural activities that include the themes of dementia and depression;
  • online support tools for informal caregivers.

In the Netherlands, family physicians in the city of Kerkrade are working to identify patients in need of social support. When such patients are identified, doctors offer services provided by well-being coaches. These coaches are volunteers who are trained to support people at risk of old- age depression.

Social workers in the Netherlands are also tasked with coordinating teams of volunteers trained to provide telephone support to socially isolated people, who are then contacted every 3 days, or every week, to follow up on their needs and to prevent social isolation.

In Euskirchen, Germany, police officers, public transport personnel, fire fighters and shop owners are being trained to communicate with people who have early dementia. In Belgium, municipalities are developing neighbourhood groups and networks of older people to improve their social inclusion.

Project assessments and activities

The project usually begins with a baseline capacity assessment, which is available in Dutch, English, French and German, and is carried out in each participating municipality. The local community then usually selects a number of activities, which reflect their needs.

Support is provided throughout the project to help municipalities implement the activities chosen. Finally, after the initial implementation process, a second assessment is performed to develop a 5-year sustainability plan.

The project euPrevent Senior Friendly Communities receives support from Interreg Euregio Meuse-Rhine with means coming from the European Regional Development Fund.