Thea Laurie is a member of the National Dementia Carers Action Network (NDCAN) and an Alzheimer Scotland Trustee. Having cared for her mother for 14 years, Thea is passionate about ensuring the voices of carers are heard. For International Women’s Day (IWD) – Wednesday 8 March, she shares this opinion piece on the Scottish Government’s recent Women’s Health plan.

What exactly are the main issues and priorities in 2023 in Scotland for an International Women’s Day where the theme is Equality vs Equity? During a time of financial hardship, in an increasingly troubled world, what exactly is important? Ask anyone what is most important to them - and health will be high up on their list.

As a member of NDCAN, I found myself reading the much-heralded Scottish Government’s Women’s Health Plan which presents itself as ambitious and forward thinking, focusing on heart health, menstrual health, menopause, and sexual health. It sets out 66 actions to ensure the best possible healthcare throughout women’s lives. It tackles the health inequalities we know exist across Scottish society and reminds us that women living in affluent areas can expect 25.1 years of better health than women living in more deprived areas.

The right to health is a fundamental human right. The Scottish Women’s Health Minister says that “the whole of society benefits when women’s health is catered for”. As 51% of the Scottish population are women, appointing a Women’s Heath Champion can only be beneficial – especially for the 61% of unpaid carers who are women and are challenged by geography, time, as well as the responsibility to care for their own health.

The Women’s Health Plan does not focus on dementia. Despite the fact it impacts on so many women’s lives, the word ‘dementia’ appears only twice in passing in the plan and brain health is not mentioned at all. It is as if a vital chapter has been missed out. Yet, as recently as 2019, Alzheimer Scotland persuaded the Scottish Government to commission from them a brand new initiative, Brain Health Scotland, to inspire and empower the public to look after their brain health.

On International Woman’s Day, let’s take stock. Brain Health is not mentioned in the Scottish Women’s Health Plan, despite dementia being the leading cause of death for women. In fact, in 2019, 15.9% of women’s deaths in the UK were recorded as being from Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia.

Let us point out that dementia disproportionally affects women. 65% of the estimated 90,000 people in Scotland living with dementia are women. 62% of people who live in care homes have dementia and 70% of people living in care homes are women.

An estimated 70% of carers of people living with dementia are women too. So, by default, women are disproportionately affected by the associated financial challenges. In order to shoulder their caring duties, 20% of women feel they have to reduce their working hours from full time to part time. Many feel they have to make this decision because trying to juggle the demands of work with caring responsibilities is just too physically and emotionally demanding.

It is impossible to ignore or exclude the impact of dementia on Scottish women’s health. The Scottish Women’s Health Plan which is a Government Life Span Report - must include data on women living with dementia.

Finally, on International Women’s Day, with its powerful theme of Equality and Equity, let’s take a moment to think about, and celebrate, everyone involved in working towards women’s dementia health equality and equity. Let’s hope that the as-yet unwritten chapter in the Government Life Span report acknowledges the disproportionate impact this condition has on women.

NDCAN is open to anyone who has experience of caring for someone living with dementia. Members all live in Scotland or care for someone who lives in Scotland. By joining NDCAN you are adding your voice to carers of people with dementia across Scotland to make sure dementia carer issues are heard. Please visit our campaigning page or email [email protected] for more information.