Editorial: Some hopeful signs for better dementia care

Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia is increasing with our ageing population

Share

A small but significant step was taken for people with dementia yesterday.

A 54-page report setting out the “quality standards” they can expect from providers of care was published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). For the first time, families of people with dementia unhappy about some aspect of care their loved one is receiving will have a document they can use to back their case. At the same time, providers now have a set of standards to help guide them in deciding what their priorities should be in terms of delivering care.

The report may prove most useful for those in the private sector who are paying for care, where it will provide extra leverage in an under-regulated area that can feel like the Wild West. Whilst some of the standards may seem too obvious to need stating – “people with dementia [should be] enabled to maintain relationships” – the Mid-Staffs scandal has shown us how even the most basic aspects of care can be neglected when a system becomes dysfunctional.

 The new initiative by NICE, renamed to reflect its extended remit, is thus welcome. But it represents a tiny advance against a formidable foe. There are more than 800,000 people with dementia in the UK, and their numbers are projected to top one million by 2021. A third are living in residential homes, 670,000 people are involved in caring for people with dementia and the cost to the UK was £23bn in 2012. The disease causes amnesia, loss of language, mood changes, apathy, psychosis and aggression. But its worst aspect is the way it strips the dignity and personality from those it strikes – with no prospect of effective treatment let alone cure.

 The human and financial costs of dementia are growing rapidly as the population ages, but the prospect of treatments to halt it, or slow its progress, are receding. At least five trials of new drugs have delivered disappointing results in the past five years.These setbacks have damaged confidence among drug makers who are desperate for a success story to make them feel there is something to work towards. Some causes of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, can take 15 years to develop –the result of the build up of sticky protein clumps called amyloid plaques in the brain – and it is feared that by the time symptoms appear it may be too late to reverse it.

In the absence of an effective treatment, we are left with providing care and social support for those affected. In Britain, we are especially poor at caring for people with dementia. Many sufferers end up in hospital because of the lack of support in the community. Some argue, rightly, that putting extra funds into improving care – increasing social work support, expanding day-centre provision – would deliver more benefit for patients than investing in drugs of limited effect.

But we cannot avoid the fact that Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia, are increasing as the population ages and unless we find some means of curbing its growth it may overwhelm our capacity to care for its victims. We spend 12 times as much on cancer research as on researching dementia, yet dementia costs society twice as much.

Last year, David Cameron declared dementia a “national crisis” and pledged to increase funding for research to reach £66m by 2015. Yesterday Barack Obama announced an initial $100m in 2014 to improve understanding of the human brain, to help solve the puzzle of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. These are welcome gestures – and an indication that priorities are slowly shifting. But much more will be required if we are to tackle the dominant medical threat of our age.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference