The UK isn't a nice place to grow old. But we can begin to change this by taking dementia seriously

It's estimated that the health and economic costs are £23 billion a year in the UK, but only 2.5 per cent of the government’s medical research budget is spent on dementia

Share

I got used to answering to lots of names. Gran would recite a roll-call of relatives every time I popped round, starting with my granddad and working her way down the years till she sometimes, eventually, got to me. I didn't mind. She knew my face, knew I was someone important to her. The rest were just minor details.

Memory loss doesn’t always have to be a barrier. You adapt, and stop reminding your grandmother that her husband died seven years ago, because it hurts with the same brutal tragedy every time. He’s in the greenhouse, he’ll be back soon. The memory fades, and gran returns to negotiating a jam laden scone with shaking hands.

On December 11 London hosts the G8 dementia summit. The most powerful nations will try to tackle the most taboo of subjects. “It’s a bit like cancer in the 1960s” says Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, comparing dementia to a diagnosis that doctors used to give without even mentioning its name. I’ve heard stories of family members who knew of an elderly patient’s cancer long before they knew themselves. It’s better they don’t know, doctors would say. It would only upset them.

Sometimes that’s true, but not often. Because when you don’t talk about something, it gets scary. Myths grow, whispers spread. We tried to ignore cancer but it didn’t go away. So we grew up. We stopped being scared of monsters and started trying to fight them instead.

Hunt wants the UK to be “the best place in the world to grow old in.” The Health Secretary has positioned himself as a champion of the older person. He’s been saying all the right things, from the importance of tackling loneliness in old age to prioritising social care just as much as medicine. But to fight dementia, we need more than words. Just two and a half percent of the government’s medical research budget is spent on dementia. Twenty-five percent is spent on cancer. They are equally pernicious, but one has ten times the funding of the other.

This isn’t a question of impact. Between 70 and 80 percent of the 422,000 people living in UK care homes have dementia, and up to one in four hospital beds are occupied by an older person with the disease. The charity Alzheimer’s Research estimates that the health and economic costs of dementia are £23 billion a year in the UK, compared to £15 billion for cancer. The discrepancy in funding just doesn’t add up.

We’ve already glimpsed at the potential for a promising future. Recent groundbreaking international research has significantly increased our understanding of dementia, doubling the number of known genetic links to the disease. In October this year, a breakthrough study by the University of Leicester demonstrated that a brain-protecting compound could stop mice from developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The more we learn, the greater our ability to protect ourselves. The unthinkable might just be possible, and there may one day be treatment for dementia. But this won’t happen without help.

In 2012 the Prime Minister called dementia his “personal priority.” The Health Secretary wants a million people to help support dementia sufferers, harnessing the volunteer spirit of Olympic games makers. The rhetoric is reassuring, but you can't save lives with empty gestures.

Dementia is a terminal disease of the brain. It requires funding in line with other life limiting conditions. This G8 summit is an opportunity for the government to deliver on its promises, and invest in the fight against this devastating disease.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor