Comment: A turning point for dementia sufferers

For the first time, a British prime minister has made a public announcement declaring a personal commitment to improving the lives of people with dementia.

By Jeremy Hughes

For the first time, people with dementia are at the heart of a major new governmental policy. We now have a pledge from the most powerful man in the country to prioritise the condition, outlining plans to invest in research, address quality of care and increase understanding of the condition.

The news has come at a crucial time. There are currently 800,000 people with dementia in the UK, yet too many are not able to
live well with the condition. Yesterday the Alzheimer's Society published Dementia 2012: A National Challenge, our most comprehensive review of how well
the UK caring for people with dementia. The report reveals just how far we, as a country, have to go.

We found that almost half a million people with dementia are battling depression, loneliness of anxiety as they struggle with little support. Sixty-one per cent experience feelings of loneliness and 77% are anxious or depressed. Nearly two thirds do not feel like a part of their community and almost half said their carer may not be getting the support they need.

There are several factors at play here, and they all have to be tackled if the situation is to improve. Government pledges to double funding for research and improve diagnosis rates are desperately needed. But the situation is one that needs multiple solutions. Health and social care staff need access to dementia care training; extra funding is required to ensure people with dementia and their carers can access better quality care.

And the social care funding system must be reformed to implement the recommendations from the Dilnot commission that would stop people with dementia being financially penalised for their condition.

But as well as national and local government
action, we can all make radical changes to the way we talk, think and act on

People with dementia are being let down by society. They have to battle against stigma and lack of understanding from people from all walks of life. This can leave them feeling isolated and unable to do the things most of us take for granted. Things like shopping, getting on a bus or visiting the bank. Things like our favourite hobbies. Things that all of us do which make us feel included in our communities.

Imagine a shopping trip in which you can't remember your pin code at the cash point, don't understand how to give the correct fare on the bus and then forget what you intended to buy when you get to the shop. Imagine that nobody helped you. This is something that many people with dementia do not have to imagine. For some, it happens every day, and the effects can be devastating. But this doesn't have to be the case.

With just a little help, people with dementia can be supported to live their lives to the full. Alzheimer's Society has a vision for how this will happen: dementia friendly communities. Dementia friendly communities are villages, towns and cities that are geared up to tackle dementia. In each community, local representatives, organisations and individuals will come together to support people to live well with dementia.

From shopkeepers who know their customers and help them work through their shopping list, to banks that offer extra support for customers with dementia, everyone can help.

Alzheimer's Society wants to ultimately see every community becoming dementia friendly, and the movement has already started. Appleton Pie Shop in Ripon is proud to be dementia friendly – a sign on the wall encourages people to tell the staff if they have dementia to make sure they can give the right support. In Torbay, local businesses have been training staff about dementia to help improve awareness and understanding of the condition. And in Plymouth, a whole host of businesses have signed up for specialist talks and literature to ensure staff learn about dementia. We want every community to take steps like these.

Jeremy Hughes is chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society

The opinions in's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.