Tackling dementia: the next big issue of the 21st century?

Age UK has recently launched the most comprehensive synthesis of evidence into the Health outcomes of older people, which looks at trends between 2005 and 2012. What it shows is that dementia is one of the next big challenges of the 21st century. Like cancer 20 years ago, we need to get to grips with this disease and begin to tackle it head on.

The numbers have been widely reported, but they are stark – we have roughly 800 000 people with dementia and this predicted to increase to just under 2 million by 2050. The chance of having dementia goes from 1 in 20 at 65 to 1 in 3 by the time you reach 90. This rise in numbers is going to have a huge impact on our society.

If we’re going to support the numbers of people with dementia in the future and ultimately find a way of treating the disease, what is required is a ‘step change’ in our collective mind set. One of the reasons we’ve made such good progress in fighting cancer is because of the very successful campaigns and initiatives that have fostered collective action across all parts of society to unite and do something about it – be that fundraising, research, improved treatment in hospital, better care for people suffering for the disease. We need this level of awareness and action to create change in the treatment and support of dementia.

However, before we can run we must walk and there is a huge challenge in terms of creating understanding and acceptance across society; the Dementia Challenge, launched by the Prime Minister in May has some good ideas about how to do this. Crucially there is welcomed new money for research (a pledge to double the funding to £66 million by 2015), which will hopefully deliver much needed innovation in the care and treatment of dementia.

For the individual, positive change is of course about care and support, but it’s also about humanising the disease and creating society where dementia isn’t seen as the end to successful living. I’d like let Keith tell you a little bit about his story:

‘We thought long and hard about whether I should carry a card explaining I have dementia because it makes me vulnerable. In the end we decided the benefits outweigh the risk of being exploited in some way.’

‘At present I’m putting a lot of effort into doing anything that will help get rid of the stigma attached to the word dementia or will help improve services for people diagnosed with it.’

When the local mental health team wanted to call him a ‘service user’ Keith quickly voiced his opinion. ‘That is far too impersonal. Nor am I a “sufferer”. As far as I’m concerned “I’m living well with Alzheimer’s”.’

Although not everyone with dementia can live as ‘well’ as Keith, they can and should be treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else – they shouldn’t have to feel vulnerable for carrying a card that might save their life, nor should they be stigmatised.

The parallels with cancer are fitting – we once used to whisper about the ‘big C’, we now do the same with dementia. It’s time to bring this disease into the open and deliver positive change.

This blog was first published as a guest blog on the public.service.co.uk website

Find out more about the health outcomes of older people. Read the report Health Care Quality for an Active Later Life

3 responses to “Tackling dementia: the next big issue of the 21st century?

  1. Dementia is a terrible thing, I worked in a small shop where there were approximately 6 employees plus 3 bosses and their 3 wives, out of that number 4 of those people, one man and 3 women were/are affected by dementia 2 at quite early ages, though after their retirement at 60. Three of them, busy people who were turned into shambling wrecks, are now deceased and one’s dementia is progressing, it’s very sad to see people you have worked with and respected lose their identity in that way. PM Cameron wishes to promote understanding of dementia but he shows little understanding himself, you state the chance of having dementia at 65 is 1 in 20, my experience says it’s more, and as the coalition government in their wisom have seen fit to raise the state pension age and therefore retirement age to a ridiculous level I fear we are going to be seeing a lot more employees begin to suffer with dementia while still employed and trying to earn a living. Which makes me wonder, having read of the way that ill and disabled people are being treated by the government’s representatives at present, how much sympathy will be shown to those unfortunate people when they can no longer work and yet are below the inflated state pension age. This is the sort of thing that wasn’t thought through when the SPA was hiked up, the coalition may think that men and women can work on and on beyond a reasonable age but our bodies cannot be dictated to by a government and age related illnesses will still occur at the ages they do now.

  2. Dementia is a terrible thing, I worked in a small shop where there were approximately 6 employees plus 3 bosses and their 3 wives, out of that number 4 of those people, one man and 3 women were/are affected by dementia 2 at quite early ages, though after their retirement at 60. Three of them, busy people who were turned into shambling wrecks, are now deceased and one’s dementia is progressing, it’s very sad to see people you have worked with and respected lose their identity in that way. PM Cameron wishes to promote understanding of dementia but he shows little understanding himself, you state the chance of having dementia at 65 is 1 in 20, my experience says it’s more, and as the coalition government
    in their wisom have seen fit to raise the state pension age and therefore retirement age to a ridiculous level I fear we are going to be seeing a lot more employees begin to suffer with dementia while still employed and trying to earn a living. Which makes me wonder, having read of the way that ill and disabled people are being treated by the government’s representatives at present, how much sympathy will be shown to those unfortunate people when they can no longer work and yet are below the inflated state pension age. This is the sort of thing that wasn’t thought through when the SPA was hiked up, the coalition may think that men and women can work on and on beyond a reasonable age but our bodies cannot be dictated to by a government and age related illnesses will still occur at the ages they do now.

  3. i beleave by helping people to stop at home for as long as possible and following the 10 points of the dignity in care challenge can go a long way in supporting with dementia what ever age you are

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