Dementia: a national priority

Alzheimers_logo_cmykGuest blog post by George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer’s Society

Dementia is the biggest health challenge facing the country. There are currently 800,000 people living with dementia, and by the end of the decade over 1 million people will be living with the condition. We know that one in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia which costs the UK £23 billion a year. Despite this spend, too many people still aren’t getting the support and care they need to live well with the condition.

The UK needs to put a solution in place, and gear up to dealing with dementia. With an ageing population, there will be a continual growth in the number of people living with this condition and our health and social care infrastructures need to be ready to better support people with the condition.

The Prime Minister’s Challenge on dementia has served to provide a much-needed step change to better support the health and care needs of people with dementia. With a quarter of all hospital beds occupied by someone with dementia, it is pleasing to see that nearly two-thirds of hospitals in England have already signed up to become dementia friendly.

From the porter who helps someone into hospital, and the receptionist who checks them in, to the doctor seeing to their medical needs, all healthcare professionals need to understand the condition. It’s important that clinicians and professionals who come into contact with people living with dementia are able to adapt the care they provide, and take into account that they might have complex needs.

Health and social care needs to be integrated. Communication between the two is vital to ensure a joined up service which helps people with dementia to live well. For a person living in residential care, the staff who care for them day by day need to understand medical treatment they’ve received and medication they need moving forward. Vice versa, on admission to hospital, doctors need to be listening to relatives and the staff who know the patient well, to understand their recent history and the best treatment and care plan for them. It can help make a smoother transition back to independent living and also reduce the risk of unnecessary readmission to hospital in future.

Whilst responsibility lies with those in health and social care, in order to deliver the real change people with dementia and their carers want and deserve, we need to accept that dementia is a challenge to all of society. Currently, people don’t believe their local communities are geared up to support people with dementia. Many with the condition have admitted to giving up things they love to do out of fear or worry; lack the confidence to get involved with their communities; and feel they have nothing to contribute. A lack of empowerment, support and opportunity can mean that people reach out but find little there to help. They face too many barriers to engage in local life in their area.

Progress has been made in this arena too. We’ve seen organisations, individuals and charities joining together with a shared vision of a dementia friendly world. Working together, a dementia friendly movement has begun, to ensure people with the condition are welcomed, understood, and have their human rights and dignity respected. It’s about ensuring a shift in attitudes and a step change in the way we perceive people with dementia and their place in our community.

Small changes can make a big impact for people with dementia and help bring us to a place where communities are dementia friendly. Whether it’s helping someone understand changes to their account in their local bank, making sure someone is still welcome at an activity group, place of worship or club they’ve attended for years, to supporting someone who appears lost and frightened out and about. Now is the time to spread the message that we can all make a difference nationwide and encourage everyone to take action.

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