The lives of people with dementia will be transformed under a new government strategy, care services minister Ivan Lewis has pledged, writes Nina Jacobs.
He said the first national strategy on dementia for England would allow patients to get help at the earliest possible stage.
Lewis launched a 12-month programme to deliver the strategy this week, answering longstanding calls from campaigners to make the condition a priority, improve care and deal with the expected rise in dementia cases in the decades ahead.
He said the strategy would bring the disease “out of the shadows” and reduce the shame and fear associated with it.
It is believed there are about 600,000 people with dementia in England. That is expected to double in the next 30 years.
Lewis said the strategy would focus on improving awareness of the condition so that people were referred for treatment as soon as possible ensuring early and accurate diagnosis by clinicians and improving treatment.
Only one-third of people with dementia are formally diagnosed during their illness – often when it is too late for them to make choices about treatment.
Andrew Ketteringham, director of external affairs at the Alzheimer’s Society, said the strategy was an indication that the government was listening to its concerns about the future scale and impact of dementia. “We have been successful in pushing dementia higher up the political agenda. The numbers involved are very large – there’s hardly a family that will go untouched by this disease.”
In February, the society published its Dementia UK study, which criticised the Department of Health for failing to give the condition sufficient priority, councils and primary care trusts for poor commissioning and described training and support for carers as inadequate.
David Sinclair, head of policy at Help the Aged, said more work needed to be done on the prevention and treatment of dementia, including prioritising research, which was the “missing link” in the new programme.
The strategy will be led by Sube Banerjee, professor of mental health and ageing at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, and Jenny Owen, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services older people’s committee.
Two-year wait for an accurate diagnosis
Angela Smith, whose husband Freddy was diagnosed with stroke-induced dementia 10 years ago, said it took about two years for him to receive an accurate diagnosis.
She said: “I used to go in to the doctor and say he was having problems with his memory but it was put down to depression. It took me a long time to realise how bad it was.”
Getting adequate treatment for Freddy after his diagnosis has also been difficult, she said, adding: “I think the fact he has dementia has caused problems and meant he is treated differently.”
She welcomes the strategy and says she also hopes it will address stigma. She said: “With dementia it’s a constant battle but even some of my family members have struggled to deal with it.”
Essential information on older people’s services