Dementia: vital to improve access to the right care

by Dr Phil McCarvill Head of Policy Phil-McCarvil_300x300

Global leaders are meeting today in London to discuss dementia, at the first G8 summit devoted to the condition.
Prime Minister David Cameron describes dementia, which affects around 800,000 people in the UK, as a national crisis and has called for earlier diagnosis, better care, greater funding for research and more compassion from society to help people living with the condition. We agree. Not just with the principle, but also that it’s important to act now. The UK has an ageing population – by 2030, the proportion of the population aged over 85 is expected to double. As we get older as a population, the likelihood is that more of us will develop dementia. Key issue So why is dementia a key issue for Marie Curie? Alongside terminal illnesses like cancer, heart failure and lung disease, dementia is actually one of the most common conditions the people we care for have. Dementia symptoms become more severe over time. They can include memory loss, confusion, speech difficulties and mood changes. And, although some symptoms can be alleviated, there’s no cure for dementia. Often, though, dementia is treated by doctors and other healthcare professionals as a factor that increases the risk of death, but not as its ultimate cause, which is attributed to other common illnesses. Hard to access care This means it can be harder than it should be for people with dementia to access care designed specifically for terminally ill people – the kind of care Marie Curie provides, for example – until well after their initial diagnosis. As with many other conditions, studies show that most people with dementia would like to die at home (or in a care home) and their families would also prefer this. However, a significant proportion are likely to die in hospital. Spending time in hospital can be very damaging to people with dementia – research shows that they are more likely to die during an admission to hospital than people without dementia. Along with early diagnosis and improving access to the right care at the right time, there are a host of other areas where more can be done to help people who have dementia and their families. These include pain management, which can be harder where dementia makes someone less able to communicate; advance care planning; and support for carers. Dementia research We are in the middle of a major three-year research project to find ways of improving care for people with dementia and will continue to focus on this issue in the coming months and years. As the G8’s discussions underline,  improving our understanding of dementia must be a key focus for those of us who research, plan services and deliver care for people with dementia. How we respond to the dementia challenge will have a major impact on society as a whole over the coming decades. Key facts about dementia

  • Around 800,000 people in the UK are affected by dementia, most of them over 65.

  • Around 2.13% of people affected by dementia are under 65.

  • Dementia was the cause of death for 4.1% of men and 8.8% of women who died in the UK in 2011.