Daily Express

Tackling dementia is a great challenge but the hope is real

- Kate Lee Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society

WE MUST prioritise tackling dementia, and the case for doing so is more overwhelmi­ng than it’s ever been. The situation I’m about to set out is not done to shame, depress or scare. It’s to affirm what we all know to be true about the scale and urgency of the challenge dementia brings to the NHS, to social care and – most importantl­y – to those living with dementia and their loved ones.

Because it’s at an individual and family level where dementia hits hardest.The experience­s of those affected by dementia must underpin everything. And while we know no two experience­s are the same, bringing to the fore the impact of this cruel disease is something we have a responsibi­lity to do.

With dementia, the personal challenge so often becomes the system challenge. The two cannot be separated, and nor should they. The personal and private devastatio­n directly impacts the system – the NHS and social care – and, more widely, the economy. This isn’t an either/or situation.

We know people are struggling and we know the system is struggling. They need to be understood as the same challenge – the enormous, widespread, existentia­l challenge of dementia – so much of which has been hidden for too long.

We can’t carry on ignoring it. At Alzheimer’s Society, we understand both the individual and systemic impact of dementia, and we’ve been working to bring it into sharper focus.

NOT just to avoid challenges in the future, but to enable us to capitalise on the promise brought about by research and innovation.

The costs of treating dementia right now are sobering but, as set out in our recent research, they will be unsustaina­ble within a few years. We must have a plan to address the huge and growing pressure dementia is applying to the system.

Not least because we know most of its financial burden falls on the tens of thousands of unpaid carers undertakin­g literally tens of billions of pounds of care work every year on behalf of their family and friends

These people, whose value goes way beyond simply the economic, are telling us they’re routinely not being given an assessment of their needs as carers.

I recently met with a gentleman who was walking to work three times a week and said it saved him £11 a week. Why? Because his wife was waiting for an NHS diagnosis and he knew, if he could save £900, he could take her for a private assessment and not have to wait a year for a diagnosis. He has saved £600 so far. How can that be acceptable on any front?

We now know, with more clarity than ever before, that diagnosis is an extremely powerful interventi­on.

Diagnosis also delays and reduces the costs associated with care further down the line, reducing the risk of the crisis points which result in unplanned hospital admissions.

Yet the amount the NHS spends on diagnosing dementia is minuscule compared to the cost of treating it and we remain in a situation where, at an official level, we only aim to diagnose two-thirds of those with dementia – depriving thousands every year of the benefits diagnosis brings.

In no other disease of this scale would we accept this as the status quo. We need to do better. And we have a health, economic and moral imperative for doing better.And we can do better, because there is hope in the advent of incoming treatments and diagnostic­s, and earlier and better diagnosis, that should reduce the enormous pressures placed upon the NHS.

We need to open ourselves up and learn from each other. Let’s face it, the big challenges in dementia are the same everywhere. This is about us all being more ambitious, finding new solutions, being uncompromi­sing and accepting the task the evidence sets us.

IT’S already happening. My sense is that we’re at a tipping point where the status quo cannot, should not and will not hold.

We know very serious work is going on to plot out how the treatments of the future can be delivered to those who will benefit from them. We know that there is genuinely innovative work to drive up diagnosis rates, to end the injustice of the diagnosis postcode lottery.

Although we’ve a long way to go, dementia diagnosis data is beginning to improve.

The challenge is great, but the hope is real.

‘The financial burden falls on thousands of unpaid carers’

 ?? ?? CHALLENGE FOR US ALL: Dementia hits hardest at an individual and family level
CHALLENGE FOR US ALL: Dementia hits hardest at an individual and family level
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