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Dementia: a crisis we can’t ignore

dementia alzheimer doctor patient crisis wellbeing
dementia alzheimer doctor patient crisis wellbeing

Jeremy Hughes

CEO, Alzheimer’s Society & Chair, Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA)

Despite diagnosis rates increasing, there are still a third of people who remain undiagnosed and don’t get the initial support and care they need.

The numbers are staggering – in less than 10 years over a million people in the UK will have dementia, with the number set to rise to 2 million by 2051.

Since the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia, there has been growing momentum to boost dementia research and this year saw a historic £250 million investment into the UK’s first ever Dementia Research Institute, with Alzheimer’s Society pledging £50 million towards the initiative.

Research is vital to improving the lives of people affected by dementia – it is only through research that we can understand the causes of dementia, develop effective treatments, improve care, and hopefully find a cure. Finding a treatment that could delay the onset of the condition by five years would halve the number of deaths from dementia, saving 30,000 lives each year.

Funding doesn’t reflect dementia’s impact

Unfortunately, dementia research funding is still dwarfed by that which is available for other conditions and doesn’t reflect the personal, economic, and social impact of dementia. For every person living with dementia in the UK the annual cost to the economy is £30,000, yet only £90 of this is spent on research.

Unusually for a health condition, it is social care that bears the main responsibility for supporting people with dementia. Yet social care is in crisis – all too often, families and friends of people with dementia are forced to prop up this broken system by paying the full cost of care themselves or ‘top-up’ fees to supplement insufficient government funding. 700,000 unpaid carers of people with dementia collectively save the UK economy £11.6 billion every year.

As purse strings are tightened, fewer people have been able to access care. Emergency hospital admissions due to a lack of appropriate social care cost the UK a total of £265 million per year. Linking health and social care funding and giving people integrated personal budgets in order to commission the care and support that’s right for them are important steps towards providing person-centred care and avoiding costly and unnecessary hospital stays.

Research contributes to prevention, cures and care

Research underpins all of our efforts to tackling dementia – only through research can we fully develop effective treatments for tomorrow and improve care for today. While we don’t yet have a cure for dementia, we know that people are still unaware that they can reduce their risk of dementia by making healthy lifestyle choice, such as setting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and not smoking.

Dementia is the biggest health challenge facing society today, and every week thousands of people become Dementia Friends and add their voices to the growing dementia movement, pledging to make a difference for everyone affected.

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