We need to talk about dementia - Dementia Awareness Week launches today

Magdalen Memory Club

Magdalen Memory Club - Credit: Archant

The numbers tell the story: almost two in every 100 people between 65 and 69 have dementia. Among those just 20 years older – 85 to 89 – that figure is one in five.

Dementia diagnosis rates projection

Dementia diagnosis rates projection - Credit: Archant

In Norfolk alone, up to 17,000 are affected. Over the next decade, that number is expected to double. It is a condition it is hard to escape.

Throughout Dementia Awareness Week, the EDP and Norwich Evening News will be highlighting ground-breaking research into the condition, focusing on how people can reduce their risk of developing it, and how our region can support those living with it.

Willie Cruickshank, director of the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance, said the issue was one which should be a personal responsibility for every one of us.

'There is a reticence to talk about dementia but we need to start having these discussions,' he said.

'The question we need to answer is how to do the very best we can for these people. Two thirds of people with dementia live in the their own homes in the community with family and friends. We need to know how to recognise when someone is struggling and what help and support to offer them.'

The brunt of the cost of dementia in the community is borne by carers, who can often be overwhelmed by the task facing them.

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The cost to the UK is estimated at £27bn, and of that only £4.36bn is spent on health care, primarily diagnoses; £4.56bn is spent on state social care and £5.8bn on private social care. That leaves £11.6bn as the cost to the people at home looking after their friends and family.

'When people read about NHS funding being protected, that is only around a sixth of the overall cost to society,' added Mr Cruickshank.

'The issue then is where the support is for unpaid carers. There isn't any guarantee and it is always a struggle to find funding. It is fragmented and not consistent.

'One example: the dementia cafés provided by the Alzheimer's Society have temporary funding from Norfolk County Council until October, but no plan as yet beyond that. Around 50pc of people living in the community with dementia are funded by the county council, and we know that is tough on an already-squeezed budget.

'The cost of caring for someone with dementia is huge, and if they are not getting the support they need they cannot provide the right care.'

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, said: 'One of the greatest injustices is that if you have cancer and are relatively well-off you get all your care free on the NHS, and rightly so. But if you have dementia and on modest means of more than £24,000, you are on your own. You get no help at all.

'Nobody can possibly justify the difference of treatment for someone with cancer and someone with dementia. We need to commit more resources and research, and critically we need to understand better how to prevent dementia.'

Mr Cruikshank added dementia needs to be recognised as a physical problem with medical solutions.

'These diseases are all linked; dementia and hypertension, heart disease and cancer,' he said. 'Surgeons can replace a heart, a liver, or a lung, But they can't replace a brain. There is no coming back from this.

'For every £7 we spend on cancer research we are only spending £1 on dementia research and we haven't beaten cancer yet, we are a long way off having a proper cure. Research is accelerating all the time, and the only way to move forward is through working in collaboration across industries and countries. It isn't something one pharmaceutical company can fix alone, and even if a cure is found for one strand of dementia, there are hundreds of variations. 'If you go back five years and look at where we were then, there has been a seismic shift in low level awareness because people are not afraid to talk about it any more. But that is the first step in the process. Cancer had to be dragged out of taboo which was a 30 year process, but now people understand it. It is no longer in the shadows.'

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