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Dementia affects 820,000 people across the UK

Promoting dementia: reducing the burden on health services

23/05/14

As Dementia Awareness Week draws to a close (18-24 May), AG looks at the cost of the disease to health and social services and what local authorities have been doing to promote dementia…

Dementia is a major burden on health services, affecting around 820,000 people in the UK. Treating the condition costs the UK economy a whopping £23bn a year—more than cancer and heart disease combined. In spite of this, dementia remains woefully underfunded, receiving 12 times less funding than oncology research.

In fact, dementia remains a disease that is woefully ignored in other areas. A recent poll conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society discovered that 54 per cent of respondents waited six months or longer to seek help after noticing the first symptoms of dementia. Three quarters of the 1043 people survey felt that dementia is difficult to discuss. Alzheimer’s Society have warned that this reluctance to discuss the condition has contributed to the 52 per cent of undiagnosed people in the UK. A separate YouGov survey of 2,300 members of the general public found that 22 per cent of people didn’t seek help for dementia because they were embarrassed.

Alzheimer’s Society’s Chief Executive, Jeremy Hughes, said: “Talking about dementia can be difficult and we all bury our heads in the sand from time to time, but the sooner you know what you are dealing with, the sooner you can feel in control again and get on with your life.”

In an attempt to raise awareness of the condition, the Dementia Friends programme was launched in 2012 by the Alzheimer’s Society, with the support of Public Health England. It aimed to give people with dementia a better quality of life, create a social network for people who due to their condition may have lost friends, and create a better understanding of the condition.

Discussing the initiative, Hughes said: “One in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia, so it is worrying that so many people would feel reluctant to seek help about it. The Dementia Friends programme has put dementia back in the spotlight but the fact remains that thousands of people remain in denial about the condition.”

As Dementia Awareness Week draws to a close, it is becoming apparent that the condition needs more attention, more funding, and more discussion amongst the public. To tackle this lack of representation, numerous councils across England have been involved in promoting the condition and raising awareness of dementia programmes in the local area.

In Hampshire over the last year, 150 businesses and services have committed to supporting dementia sufferers. Hampshire also created four dementia friendly high streets, undertook 90 consultations, and held 130 awareness raising events.

Councillor Liz Fairhurst, Hampshire County Council’s Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health, said: “I am very proud that Hampshire has been at the forefront of the dementia friendly communities work nationally. Over the past year Dementia Friendly Hampshire has been working to create communities where people with dementia can live well and feel able to make a valued contribution. I would really like to encourage Hampshire residents and businesses to get involved as the more people who join us, the greater the difference we can collectively make to improving the quality of life for people with dementia, their families and carers.”

Kent County Council also has a range of services in place for people affected by dementia. The Dementia Friendly Communities project is aimed at raising awareness of the condition and improving the quality of life of those affected by the disease.

Additional support and training has also been offered to care home workers to ensure a better understanding of the challenges facing people and families affected by the condition. Kent County Council also launched a Dementia Action Alliance, which brought together the council, the NHS, voluntary sector, businesses, and education and academia.

Graham Gibbens, KCC cabinet member for adult social care and public health, said: “We at KCC are determined to make our county dementia friendly and this means improving understanding, removing stigma and making sure we support people with the right advice and services so they can live well with dementia.

“Dementia is not just about memory loss; dementia can change the way that people experience the world around them and this means they sometimes need a helping hand. This is where you come in. We are inviting as many people in Kent as possible to become a Dementia Friend. We are running Dementia Awareness sessions all this week, which is a chance for you to find out more about dementia and the small things you can do to make a difference to people in your community living with dementia.”

In East Sussex, the county council is backing the national Dementia Friends initiative, whilst Norfolk County Council have promoted a dementia booklist at libraries across the county this week.

Margaret Wilkinson, Cabinet Member for Communities at Norfolk County Council, said: “Our libraries are not just about reading, we want them to be central in offering support to everyone in the local community and Dementia Awareness Week is all about making sure that people are well aware of what dementia is and how they can assist those living with it, which is why I’m delighted that our library service is putting its weight behind this important campaign.”

Dan Roper, Norfolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Protection and Chair of the Norfolk Heath and Wellbeing Board, added: “Dementia is one of the Norfolk Health and Wellbeing Board’s top three priorities so by supporting Dementia Awareness Week, we’re really hoping to raise understanding of something that touches the lives of so many of us.

“Our aim is for Norfolk to become a champion in developing dementia friendly communities but we can only achieve this by working together. We all have a role to play in this, which is why we’re encouraging as many people as possible to become Dementia Friends.”

Warwickshire County Council gave organisations across the region free reign to organise events, and continued to push its Living Well with Dementia Partnership.

Councillor John Beaumont, Chair of the Adult Social Care and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, WCC said: “Dementia is one of the conditions that goes largely undiagnosed in society – often due to the social stigma that exists around it – yet people with dementia are amongst our most vulnerable and fastest growing group of residents. The Living Well with Dementia Partnership and dementia action alliance have been instrumental in breaking down some of this stigma and barriers to people getting help and would hope to see these efforts go from strength to strength following such a positive show of support from all regions of Warwickshire and our close partners in Coventry.”

Local councils must play their part to promote dementia awareness and improve services for those people affected by the disease. As life spans continue to increase and the older population continues to grow, dementia is a condition that will continue to affect society. The support of national and local government, as well as charities like Alzheimer’s Society is imperative to tackle this disease in the future.

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