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French Version

Beirut hosts first Alzheimer's conference in Arab world

Talks aim to increase expertise and awareness

Alzheimer's awareness, although still in the early stages in Lebanon, is making major progress, according to experts attending the first-ever Arab conference held this week to discuss the disease.

Aimed at increasing knowledge and expertise regarding Alzheimer's Disease in Lebanon and the region, the three-day conference in Beirut which ended Friday was the first of its kind to be held in the Arab world.

Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia - a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes which affect memory, thinking, behavior and emotion.

Organized by the Alzheimer's Association of Lebanon (AAL) with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Public Health Ministry, the Lebanese Order of Physicians and the National Committee for the Elderly, the event gathered a large number of physicians and international Alzheimer's experts.

Diane Mansour, AAL founder and president, said: "The conference seeks to develop a regional and national plan to raise the level of awareness on the disease and reach patients, caregivers, specialists, doctors, nurses, specialized international agencies and government and non-governmental organizations."

She added: "Unless we fight the stigmas of the disease we will never be able to raise awareness for it."

With an estimated 30,000 cases of Alzheimer's in Lebanon and potentially 1.5 million cases throughout the Arab world, the figures are staggering enough to call for action, Mansour said.

She added that associations dedicated to the disease were immensely underrepresented in the Arab world, with Lebanon and Egypt the only established members of international organizations.

She said: "After this conference we hope that many Arab countries will follow our example and start dealing with the disease in a more practical way."

According to Mansour, associations such as the one in Lebanon "greatly help in improving the quality of life for people living with dementia and their caregivers by providing information and support and raising awareness among the population."

She added: "Learning how to cope and deal with the affected patients gives excellent results, transforming this devastating drama into a joy of life and happiness."

Edward Zamrini, who came all the way from the United States to attend the conference, said there was currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Such was also the case with most other causes of dementia.

He said: "Researchers are still at the stage of developing drugs that will merely slow down the progression of the disease."

He added that in Lebanon, people were "more or less aware of the disease, but most of the time they are in a state of denial. So they try to hide it and give it different names."

Zamrini said that there was a great need for Alzheimer's associations in the Arab country.

He said: "AAL puts high hopes on this country. All other countries should follow."

Mounir Khani, head of the psychiatry department at the American University Hospital (AUH) said that the presence of a local Alzheimer's association has made a tremendous impact so far.

He said: "One of the main outcomes of this conference is to have a follow-up committee that will include members of all Arab countries and keep on eye on Alzheimer's activities and status in the region."

Beirut,03 14 2005
Jessy Chahine
The Daily Star
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