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Action on Dementia

By George Ames

14 May 2015

In the multiplicity of awareness weeks, days, hours even, it seems oddly appropriate that Dementia Awareness Week follows directly from Mental Health Awareness Week. Dementia and mental health share many things in common – stigma, misunderstanding, fear and a wide spectrum of conditions under each collective grouping.

However, there is room to be positive. The understanding and narrative around mental health has transformed over the last decade or so – whilst there is still plenty of work to do, it is becoming increasingly less loaded to admit to struggling with mental health. We all get physically ill, so why should it be a surprise that we all get mentally ill too. And dementia has seen a stratospheric rise in awareness over the last few years, led by the Alzheimer’s Society and helped by the Prime Minister’s efforts, the Dementia Friends initiative, people of profile such as Terry Pratchett attracting media interest, and the wide network of corporate and delivery partners bringing the issue into our consciousness. These changes should be celebrated.

The challenge, however, as with any journey of behaviour change, is to move people from awareness to action. Whilst this is starting to be seen by some employers, my own included, rolling out progressive mental health policies to support their workforce, dementia remains something that is ‘over there’. This cannot continue to be the case. Someone in the UK develops dementia every three minutes – that’s 225,000 a year. The number of people living with dementia is expected to rise to over two million by 2051. Dementia costs the state £8.8 billion and people with dementia and their families a staggering £17.4 billion every year. As BMJ showed in April, it is also drastically underfunded; for every £10 of health and social care costs contributed to each disease, cancer received £1.08 in research funding, coronary heart disease £0.65, stroke £0.19 and dementia £0.08. These are stark numbers indeed.

Dementia is a complex and varied condition which requires greater understanding, greater funding and awareness that it will touch all of us in some way. I hope that this year’s Dementia Awareness Week will not only be an awareness driver but also, crucially, a time for action. A time for us to decide to allocate dementia as the next cause we will raise funds for, a time for HR departments to consider how to support their workforce, a time to campaign for better diagnosis and treatment and a time for us to all consider the importance of getting to grips with the reality that dementia is very much ‘over here’ and here to stay.

Photo credit: Number 10 on Flickr