Raising awareness of Dementia
- Published on Tuesday, 06 July 2010 01:00
- Written by Ruth Sutherland
This year, the biggest week in Alzheimer’s Society’s calendar has the theme Remember the Person. It will ask people to think about the family members, friends and neighbours they know who have dementia and the little things they can do to make their lives more manageable and enjoyable. Activities across the week, including hundreds of Society organised tea parties, will aim to spread this message and raise awareness.
At the heart of Dementia Awareness Week™ is the message that a diagnosis does not have to mean an end to a quality of life and that the person continues to be the person they always have been. Over the years I have met some inspirational people with dementia who despite a diagnosis continue to lead full and more importantly fulfilling lives. Paramount to being able to achieve this is having people around them who continue to see their unique personalities and appreciate them for who they are.
But of course we can’t just raise awareness for one week a year and then sit back. Upping the profile of dementia is a constant mission for the Society. There are currently around 750,000 people in the UK living with the condition and this number is expected to reach a million within 15 years. Unfortunately, we have heard from some of these people that a diagnosis resulted in them losing friends or being avoided.
Sadly this is supported by evidence compiled during the first ever Department of Health led dementia awareness campaign earlier this year which found a third of people felt uncomfortable around people with dementia. Anyone who has ever been shunned or ignored will know just how traumatic an experience this can be. Thankfully we are beginning to see an increased interest of dementia from the media and politicians but we must now redouble our efforts to ensure this awareness is accompanied by understanding. Understanding is essential if we are to change outdated attitudes to this condition and give people with dementia the recognition and support they need.
The most important national action we have seen so far has been the launch of dementia strategies. The National Dementia Strategy for England and similar strategies such as the Dementia Plan for Wales provide us with key priorities that show what needs to be done to improve dementia care and how we need to do it. In the 18 months since the England launch we have seen a noticeable difference in the way dementia is viewed in this country but it’s just the beginning and we need to build on this progress.
We are beginning to hear promises of further developments. For instance, the social care system which burdens many people with dementia with a ‘dementia tax’ of tens of thousands of pounds for essential care is set to be reviewed. The coalition government has said it will establish a commission on long term care. This, if implemented properly, has the power to transform the existing crumbling system but it will require radical reform. The necessary end result is quite simple. We need good care at a fair price.
Similarly a commitment to prioritise dementia research cannot afford to be overlooked. There is currently eight times less spent on dementia research than cancer research yet dementia costs the country as much as heart disease, stroke and cancer combined. Scientific development is essential if we are to increase our understanding of the condition and move closer to identifying the causes and finding a cure. This will not only save money but also lives. If we can find a means to delay the onset of dementia by five years we could halve the number of deaths of people with dementia.
There are plenty more issues that need to be addressed but it looks like the tide is beginning to turn and at least for now there appears to be a national desire for change and improvement. We must capitalise on this and not capitulate in the battle to defeat this increasingly prevalent condition. So this week let’s raise a tea cup and celebrate Dementia Awareness Week 2010.