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The Challenge of Dementia

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By 2025, one million people in the U.K. will have dementia. In our upcoming series, we discuss some innovative solutions for tackling this growing health and societal challenge.

Dementia is one of the most devastating illnesses I have seen. Over the years as a doctor, I have met countless patients with the condition and know first-hand how profoundly it can affect not just physical function but also psychological and emotional well-being- for the person as well as their family. However, something that always strikes me is how the diagnosis of dementia is not binary. Unlike breaking a bone, or having a stroke, or being diagnosed with a genetic condition, dementia often emerges slowly, over months to years. Whilst those with advanced dementia usually need support with day-to-day activities, there are many people living in the early stages of dementia who are perfectly capable (and want to) live independently with support from family and friends.

Categorising everyone with cognitive impairment, or even specific forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s, into one box is therefore not helpful when it comes to thinking about the care they need. This is compounded by the fact that each person’s family circumstances, and the ability of their spouse, children or others to care for them, varies significantly. The transition to needing formal support is often precipitated by a sudden event, such as being admitted to hospital with a physical illness or the death of a relative, or by a more gradual recognition that the balance between the individual’s care needs and the ability of those around them to cope has tipped too far.

Our population is ageing, and as it does the challenge of dementia will only increase. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, a staggering one million people in the U.K. will have dementia by 2025 and this may increase to two million by 2050. As a healthcare system, and indeed as a society, finding ways of supporting people with dementia to live independently whilst managing the transition to formal care if/when the time arises will become increasingly important. We also need to support those who provide informal care. 1.34 billion hours of unpaid care are provided to people with dementia each year in the U.K., equivalent to a cost of £11.6 billion (i.e. 44% of the total cost of dementia care). In my experience, there is much greater public awareness of support available in other areas (e.g. childcare) than that available for informal carers from the government or voluntary sector.

In future blogs, we will be looking at some innovative approaches to dementia care both in this country and abroad. The challenge we face is how to manage the situation to enable those affected to live in the most dignified manner, whilst supporting those around them and the wider healthcare system as it buckles under the immense strain it faces.

One of the reasons we started CareCompare is to empower individuals and their relatives with choice. Just as we are used to transparency in many other aspects of life when it comes to booking services, care should be no different. CareCompare is now live across Essex. If you know someone who needs private homecare, please take a look at our website. It is completely free, and being supported by a government grant from Innovate U.K. who share our vision of making high quality care accessible to all.

Please note that the views expressed here are those of the author alone and not necessarily those of any other person or organisation

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