UK: More Research Funds Needed To Improve Dementia Today And Tomorrow

Last Updated: 2 October 2015
Article by Karen Taylor

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

September 2015 is the fourth global World Alzheimer's Month", an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge the stigma of dementia. Its theme, Remember Me, is aimed at encouraging people across the world to learn to spot the signs of dementia, and not to forget those who are living with, or have died with, dementia. In the UK, dementia awareness and understanding has come a long way. However, the stigmatisation and misinformation that surrounds dementia remain a challenge and research into this devastating disease is still seriously underfunded.

Over the past 18 months we have worked with our charity partner, the Alzheimer's Society, to evaluate developments in dementia in the UK which are published in our joint report - Dementia today and tomorrow: A new deal for people with dementia and their carers. In recognition of World Alzheimer's month, this week's blog highlights some of our report's key findings. It also highlights stark findings published by Alzheimer's Research UK to mark World Alzheimer's day, demonstrating why more funding of dementia research is urgently needed.i

Today, an estimated 850,000 in the UK have dementia (both diagnosed and undiagnosed), 62 per cent of whom have Alzheimer's disease. There are also some 670,000 people acting as primary carers for people with dementia. These figures are set to rise dramatically over the coming years as the UK's population ages. As the number of people with dementia rises, so will the costs. Latest estimates suggest the total annual cost to the UK economy of dementia is £26.3 billion or £32,250 per person, comprising social care, health care and unpaid carers. The Prime Minister, in launching his Dementia Challenge has described dementia as "a national crisis".

While there is currently no cure for dementia, it is possible to improve lives and save costs by increasing the number of people who receive a timely diagnosis and providing more equitable access to quality care and support that allows people with dementia and their families to plan for their future. Timely diagnosis and support could also save public money by reducing the need for unplanned admissions to care homes and unnecessary admissions to hospital. Research into ways of reducing the risks and treating the disease is essential. Indeed, there is persuasive evidence emerging that demonstrates how modifying behaviours can reduce the risk of dementia. This includes reducing tobacco use and better control and detection for hypertension, diabetes and other cardiovascular risk factors. Indeed, "what is good for your heart is good for your head".

England has been a leading contributor to the fight against dementia, from the launch of the National Dementia Strategy in February 2009ii, to the Prime Minister's Dementia Challenges in 2012iii and 2015 iv. Today there are 18 countries in Europe with dementia strategies, and globally from Chile to Korea, governments are following England's lead. There is also renewed leadership, expressed globally at the G8 Dementia Summit in London in December 2013.

Our report with the Alzheimer's Society identifies the steps we believe are needed to maintain and drive improvements and make dementia care fit for the 21st century. It brings together the views of people with dementia, their carers and expert practitioners from across health and social care. The participants in our research confirmed that general awareness of dementia among the public has improved, as has professional awareness and understanding, with some excellent examples of care now emerging. However we also identified wide variations in the quality of care, and that for far too many people with dementia and their carers, the overall standard of care remains inadequate and is still not fit for purpose. Almost everyone with, or living with, someone with dementia finds life difficult, with care and support still a long way from meeting many peoples' needs. There is a common belief that a timely diagnosis is critical and consistency of care, and care givers, is essential.

Of critical importance to the future of dementia care is investment in dementia research. This has been brought home starkly this week by Alzheimer's Research UK, who used World Alzheimer's Day on 22nd September to reveal the results of research it had commissioned from the Office of Health Economics - Estimation of future cases of dementia from those born in 2015.v 

The research, set out to calculate the number of people born today who could be expected to develop the condition during their lifetime. The analysis took into account life expectancy estimates for people born in 2015, as well as estimates of dementia incidence in men and women of different ages. Its worst case estimates is that for every child born in 2015, one in three can be expected to develop dementia during their lifetime, unless risks can be drastically reduced and/or effective treatments or even cures can be found. While the findings of the report do make for sobering reading, the estimates are based on the assumption that effective treatments, or ideally a cure, will not be discovered over the research timeframe. Rather, the stark findings are intended to galvanise the government and others into action supported by long-term, sustainable research funding, proportionate to the economic and social impact of the condition.

Last year Alzheimer's Research UK published another set of projections modelled by the Office of Health Economics, who estimated that a treatment to delay dementia's onset by five years could reduce the number of people living with the condition by a third.vi It also launched several major initiatives to help speed up the development of new treatments, including a network of Drug Discovery Institutes and a Global Clinical Trials Fund.

Adequately funded research is clearly needed. We owe it to people living with the heartache of dementia now, and to our children, to strive for better treatments and preventions, including a future where dementia is talked about with optimism. Research has the power to deliver that future. In the meantime there are measures that everyone can take to reduce the risks of dementia and ensure we live as healthy a life as possible. These include doing regular exercise, cutting alcohol consumption and maintaining a healthy weight.

i http://cdn.dementiablog.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/OHE_Consulting_ARUK_FINAL.pdf
ii https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/living-well-with-dementia-a-national-dementia-strategy
iii https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/215101/dh_133176.pdf
iv https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prime-ministers-challenge-on-dementia-2020
v http://cdn.dementiablog.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/OHE_Consulting_ARUK_FINAL.pdf
vi http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/treatment-to-delay-dementia-by-five-years-would-reduce-cases-by-33/

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