Healthcare professionals with an eye on wider trends in the UK health sector cannot have failed to observe growing concerns within the profession about the rising burden of dementia, and the implications this will have on the British population over the coming years.
Treatment of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease has always been an important area of medicine due to the devastating impact these long-term ailments can have on patients and their families, however there is mounting evidence that this problem is likely to get considerably worse in the medium to long-term future.
On Wednesday December 11th 2013, London played host to the first ever G8 summit on dementia, with Prime Minister David Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to discuss the matter with their international counterparts in order to devise a coordinated global action strategy.
Addressing this threat will require full cooperation from government bodies, community members and medical staff alike.
The scale of the problem
Currently, 670,000 people in England live with dementia, but this number is expected to reach nearly one million by the end of 2020, before doubling from its present figure within 30 years' time.
An estimated 21 million people in England have a close friend or family member with dementia, and this number is likely to increase exponentially as the overall age of the population continues to increase.
This is a concerning trend for a wide variety of reasons. Dementia patients require long-term health and social care support, placing considerable financial and emotional strain on carers and loved ones, as well as taking up large amounts of time and money for healthcare service providers.
At present, the impact of the disease is being exacerbated by the relatively inefficient structures in place for diagnosing sufferers. Indeed, of the 670,000 dementia-afflicted people in England, around 350,000 remain undiagnosed and without access to support.
These late diagnoses make it much harder to treat patients successfully and cost-effectively.
What can be done?
The Government is investing significant amounts of funding and attention to addressing this problem before it gets worse. Last year, Mr Cameron launched an NHS Dementia Challenge, which encompasses various efforts to drive improvements in health and care, create dementia-friendly communities that understand how to help, and foster wider research and development efforts.
This has yielded several positive outcomes. Since 2009/10, government-funded dementia research has almost doubled to £52.2million; the number of people being assessed by memory clinics has risen four-fold since 2010/11; and more than 160 NHS trusts have committed to being dementia friendly.
Meanwhile, Health Education England have already trained more than 108,000 NHS staff to spot the early symptoms of the condition, learn how to interact with those with dementia and signpost staff to the most appropriate care, thus empowering them to help tackle the issue.
Additionally, £50 million has been allocated to adapt wards and care homes for people with dementia and a £300 million programme has been announced to build or renovate housing for people with long-term conditions, including dementia.
It is hoped that recent changes to the GP contract - which will see doctors given personal accountability for individual patients - will also be beneficial for elderly people with chronic conditions of this kind.
Through these and other initiatives, it is hoped that healthcare professionals can help the UK to take the lead in the global fight against dementia.
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