The number of people diagnosed with dementia in England has risen by more than 60 per cent in seven years, new figures have revealed.
Data released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that 344,000 people in England had a diagnosis of dementia in 2013/14, up from 319,000 the previous year, and 213,000 when the figures were first collected in 2006/07.
Experts said that the new figures still did not reflect the full extent of dementia in England, as around half the people living with the condition have never had a diagnosis. Indeed increased rates of diagnosis have been welcomed as good news, because a definitive diagnosis can make it easier for people to access support and treatment.
The sharp rise in diagnoses in recent years has been attributed to a combination of an ageing population, better recording, and improvements among doctors in spotting and diagnosing the symptoms of dementia.
Hilary Evans, spokesperson for Alzheimer’s Research UK, said that the figures “give us some idea of the challenge” posed by dementia in England.
“Dementia is one of the most feared conditions for many, but an accurate and timely diagnosis can be important for people to be able to access support and existing treatments – as well as helping people to make sense of the symptoms they are experiencing,” she said. “These latest figures further underline the urgent need for better treatments to help the hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by this devastating condition.”
The total number of people living with dementia in the UK – both diagnosed and undiagnosed – is estimated to be more than 800,000. 665,000 have the condition in England, 88,000 in Scotland, 45,000 in Wales and 19,000 in Northern Ireland.
The HSCIC’s new figures were released as a study in the USA suggested that depression in older people may be a risk factor for dementia. A link between the two conditions has been observed before, but it was not known whether depression could be a cause of dementia or vice versa. In the study of nearly 1,800 people, carried out by Rush University Medical School in Chicago, patients with dementia were more likely to have had depressive symptoms before diagnosis. However, depression appeared to have no influence on the biological changes in the brain believed to cause dementia.
Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at Alzheimer’s Society, said that the findings of the study, published in the journal Neurology today, were of interest.
“[It] raises the potential idea that treating depression could be a way to reduce the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and dementia,” he said. “But more research is needed in order to test this before we can draw any firm conclusions.”