Some worthwhile news you may have missed: PM doubles funding for dementia research

Nik Darlington 10.23am

It is a tall order for proper news to rear its head at the moment, with the media barely recovering from its infantile frenzy of fiscal grannies before leaping gleefully into the arms of a lascivious donor scandal.

The Sunday Times' undercover sting of the former Tory party treasurer was a timely reminder that News International, despite dangerous dalliances with illicit technology, still does a good turn of old fashioned muckraking. In the midst of Leveson, 'how timely', the cynical (or the sensible) might say. Rupert might have missed a trick though. Would've done sales a world of good giving it to the Sun.

But while the columns and airwaves were aflutter with chatter about who shares the Prime Minister’s table, Mr Cameron yesterday announced important extra funding for dementia research, during a speech at a conference put on by the Alzheimer’s Society, who have published a report entitled Dementia 2012: A national challenge.

Mr Cameron called it a “national crisis” and “one of the greatest challenges of our time”. Dementia affects hundreds of thousands of elderly people and is thought to cost society £23 billion (rising to £27 billion by 2018), not to mention the often painful - and regularly painstaking - time and attention given to sufferers by carers and loved ones each and every day.

The Alzheimer’s Society’s research shows that barely one-fifth of of dementia sufferers believe they are “living well” with the condition, and only 7 per cent of the general public believe that sufferers have a “very good” or even a “fairly good” quality of life.

Mercifully, I was too young truly to take in the full bearing of my grandmother’s long experience of Alzheimer’s. She once took me for a short stroll around Wimbledon Common, pushing me in my pram. We were discovered a worryingly long while later a few streets away. She was asking a builder where she lived, while I happily and unassumingly blew bubbles, or did whatever babies did in the 1980s (do they now play Angry Birdies?). Needless to say, I didn’t grow up knowing her too well.

Yet by all accounts, my grandmother received loving and excellent care: from my late grandfather, my mother, many other relatives and dedicated professional carers. Not all, scarcely many, have such good fortune.

Dementia is, as Mr Cameron said yesterday, “a terrible disease”. It isn’t just geriatrics losing their marbles. It is a chronic condition that is only going to affect more and more people as our population ages. If the number of dementia sufferers does indeed double over the next four decades, we all need to become much better at caring for them.

Overall, the solutions are relatively straightforward. They just need the commensurate time, attention and resources devoted to them. The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday is a first step of what must be many.

On the surface, I am not keen on the creation of twenty “dementia-friendly communities” (they have an air of the ‘undesirables’ colony about them). But if what it means is testing efforts to raise awareness and understanding of a largely misunderstood disease, then I am easily convinced.

Because dementia is a chronic condition that people have to live with for many years, treatment of it cannot force sufferers to be isolated. Much as the world we live in has become more accommodating, physically and psychologically, of disabled people, we have to make the world more accommodating for dementia sufferers.

As the Alzheimer’s Society’s report says, this will involve “a major shift in public awareness and understanding of dementia”. The social care system must be reformed, using the Dilnot Commission’s recommendations as a starting point. Resources have to shift from inappropriate acute and residential care towards helping care for people in the community.

Perhaps most importantly, dementia sufferers must be recognised as “active citizens with the potential to live well in the community”.

This all needs research, time and effort. The Prime Minister understands this, and we hope, as we await publication of a White Paper on social care, that the Government understands this too.

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