New campaign to highlight dementia

IN Derbyshire it is estimated that 12,704 people are currently living with dementia, with 62 per cent of those without a formal diagnosis, according to new figures.

The total number of people in the area living with dementia is expected to reach 17,234 by 2021.

In a new survey carried out for the Department of Health, worryingly, just over a third of people over the age of 40 in the East Midlands understand the differences between the symptoms of dementia and signs of ageing.

The National Audit Office estimates that, nationally, dementia costs health and social care services £8.2 billion per year. Alzheimer’s Research UK have estimated that the overall cost of dementia to society as a whole is £23 billion per annum. It is estimated that savings of £80 million could be made every year by improving hospital care for people with dementia and that every general hospital has excess costs of £6 million because of dementia, due to the worse outcomes for length of stay, mortality and institutionalisation.

The research into dementia awareness forms part of a Coalition Government campaign being launched today (7 November) by Care Services Minister Paul Burstow, to raise awareness of the early signs and symptoms of dementia ahead of the festive season and increase early diagnosis by visiting GPs.

With Christmas fast approaching, many of us are beginning to plan for the time of year when families are likely to spend more time together and see loved ones that we may not have seen for a while. It is often during this time when differences in behaviour and memory are noticed and when a crisis point can surface. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Society received some 1,870 calls in January this year - almost double the number received in December 2010.

Unfortunately, recognising that someone close to us may have dementia often comes too late, resulting in a crisis point and delayed diagnosis. Early diagnosis can, however, lead to better quality of life and prolonged independence.

Memory problems are often put down to a natural part of getting older. However, this lack of understanding of the symptoms is believed to be why only 40 per cent of people with dementia in England have a formal diagnosis. As such, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the country that could be going without the vital treatment and support that the NHS can offer.

The £2 million campaign will feature TV, radio and print adverts to emphasise the importance and benefits of early diagnosis. It was successfully piloted in the North West and Yorkshire & Humber NHS regions in March this year.

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said: “People are afraid of dementia and rather than face the possibility someone they love has the condition, they can wrongly put memory problems down to ‘senior moments’.

“But if you are worried, the sooner you discuss it and help the person seek support the better. Don’t wait until a crisis. Being diagnosed with dementia won’t make the condition worse but leaving it untreated will.

“We can’t cure dementia, but we can help you keep the person you love for longer through vital support the NHS can offer.”

Alzheimer’s Society has been a key partner in working with Government on the campaign. Ian Howarth, East Midlands area manager added: “As the number of people with dementia increases, it is vital we all take time to understand and talk about the condition. People with dementia and their families have told us that a diagnosis opened the door to support, treatment and information they wouldn’t otherwise have had access to and helped them plan for the future.

“This campaign has the potential to make a huge difference and Alzheimer’s Society is delighted to support it. If you are worried about your own or a loved one’s memory you should talk to your GP.”

Julie Jones aged 61, from Derbyshire, has experience of both an early diagnosis and a late diagnosis, with her mother and mother-in-law, and can see an enormous difference between the two. Julie said: “I can certainly see the benefits of receiving an early diagnosis and receiving the correct treatment and medication from an early stage of the disease. The difference between my mother and my mother-in-law is unbelievable.”

Whilst around three quarters of us agree that dementia is easier to treat the earlier it is diagnosed, one in 10 people admit that they wouldn’t speak to their family member or friend if they thought they were showing signs of dementia. According to the research, the biggest barrier to bringing up the subject with a family member or close friend is fear of upsetting them, with almost 60 per cent of the people surveyed in the East Midlands admitting to this. There is also a worry that their loved one might think they’re destined for a care home. In addition, people admit to simply being embarrassed to have the conversation or are worried they will embarrass their loved one.”

Dementia is a progressive and eventually terminal condition. Whilst there is no cure, treatment and support can help slow progression, meaning people are able to keep their loved ones for longer and help them maintain their independence. In fact, many people with dementia live well and can take part in normal day-to-day activities. If you are worried about a family member or friend, discuss your concerns with them and encourage them to visit their GP.

For further information on the symptoms of dementia and the support available, visit: www.nhs.uk/dementia