Norman Lamb MP writes…Have your say on dementia care

Back in 2008, when I was Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, I spoke out about poor diagnosis rates for dementia sufferers, saying that “the NHS must do more to ensure people are encouraged to seek early help and that they have access to care from their GP, specialist assessment and accurate diagnosis.” Dementia diagnosis rates across the country vary significantly – and although they are improving, they are still not good enough. And, while there is some excellent dementia care – there has also been much that is inadequate.

I could never have imagined then that – 5 years on – I would find myself chairing the opening session of a G8 Summit on Dementia. Over the past year, during its presidency of the G8, Britain has led the way on dementia, driving an international initiative to push this up the political agenda. Life sciences are one of Britain’s great research strengths, and the focus on dementia can play a crucial role in working to deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society.

I see in my role as Health Minister, and in my constituency, the suffering caused by dementia not just for those with the condition but also for their families, friends and carers. Dementia affects more than 35 million people worldwide, and that number is expected to double over the next 20 years.

At the Summit yesterday, the G8 nations set as their top priority an objective of improving the quality of life for people with dementia. We have also agreed to work together to co-ordinate scientific research globally. This will avoid duplication, and make sure that research is shared, so we can make faster progress towards discovering treatments for the different forms of dementia, with an ambition to find a cure or disease-modifying therapy by 2025. There has also been an important commitment to improve care, and promote dignity and respect for those suffering from dementia. You can read the declaration in full here (pdf).

Over the past two years we’ve seen £2bn invested in Britain’s life sciences industry, creating jobs and also driving forwards progress on beating dementia. The Government set an ambition to double its funding for dementia research by 2025, and the G8 have committed to making a collective and significant increase in funding. As Liberal Democrat health minister, I am also working to ensure that we address the unacceptable regional variations in dementia diagnosis, and deliver better joined-up care across the health and care system for those living with dementia. Particular with vascular dementia, there is a strong link between healthy lifestyles and prevention: we also discussed yesterday the importance of public health in reducing levels of dementia.

And I was delighted that today the CQC announced that it will be carrying out focussed inspections of care homes and hospitals specifically looking at the way they look after people with dementia. There are too many cases where standards of care for people with dementia are simply unacceptable.

The CQC are asking people to share their personal experience of care for people living with the condition, to help inform these inspections. You can submit your comments to [email protected] or via a webform, available here. I would urge everyone to participate.

Dementia is one of the greatest public health challenges we will face over the coming decades across the world. We have to take action now to improve treatment and prevention, and to ensure that we are better able to support those living with the condition and ensure a good quality of life. In Government, Liberal Democrats have been completely focussed on delivering on our commitment to ensure that dementia is treated with the seriousness it deserves.

* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015. He now chairs the Science and Technology Select Committee

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3 Comments

  • Ruth Bright 12th Dec '13 - 6:58pm

    Very much agree about vascular dementia. People with vascular dementia sometimes receive poorer follow-up from health services because the range of drugs for Alzheimer’s are not appropriate to them.

    Norman (congratulations, by the way, on your performance on that very moving edition of Newsnight this week) – there are some who think vascular dementia should be called Type 3 Diabetes or do you think that is going too far?

  • Obhi Chatterjee 3rd Jan '14 - 2:16am

    I draw your attention to the prequel of the film I’m currently completing: http://youtu.be/QqcJSxs0UMU .

    The film is called You must be nuts! both because it was originally going to be a documentary about using coconut oil to treat dementia and because it now seems inevitable that we will suffer from dementia in older age. As you will see, its subtitle is now ‘The business of dementia’.

    More public funding for dementia research is certainly welcome. However, it seems that those to whom the funding is entrusted are so keen to find a drug they can patent that they refuse to research promising non-drug treatments, let alone prevention.

    The 35-year Cardiff University study published during the G8 dementia summit was not the first to show a link between diet and dementia. A study by the Mayo Clinic over a year ago showed that older people following a high carbohydrate diet are almost 4 times more likely to suffer dementia than those following a high fat diet: http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/eating-lots-of-carbs-sugar-may-raise-risk-of-cognitive-impairment-mayo-clinic-study-finds .

    And yet the UK Government is still busy trying to cut the fat in people’s diets – an obsession which seems to originate from a fraudulent study from the 1960s by a US scientist. In September 2013, after reviewing the evidence, the Swedish Government altered its dietary advice to recommend a low carbohydrate diet: http://www.dietdoctor.com/swedish-expert-committee-low-carb-diet-effective-weight-loss . In contrast, the low fat diet advocated by the NHS necessarily leads to a high carbohydrate diet.

    Faced with rising health costs for older people, surely it’s high time the UK Government offered dietary advice based on science, rather than commercial lobbying? In October, cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra set out quite succinctly in the British Medical Journal why the insistence on lowering saturated fat in our diets has increased our cardiovascular risks.

    Let’s also end the myth that dementia is more prevalent today because it affects older people and people live longer these days. Although average lifespan has increased, this change is essentially due to reduced infant mortality. The proportion of people over 60 has remained largely unchanged for over three centuries!

    You have only to extrapolate the data in your article backwards to see that there has been a massive jump in dementia over the past 30-40 years. As recently as 1978, there were only 648 cases of Alzheimer’s cited in medical studies worldwide.

    Previously (up to around 50 years ago) older people were regarded as wise and were widely respected. Today, thanks to dementia, they are regarded as forgetful and far from wise.

    So what changed in the past 40 years? Well, the amount of fat in people’s diets fell, thanks to misguided official dietary advice and marketing campaigns. But also older people are now routinely prescribed a cocktail of drugs ostensibly to prevent cardiovascular disease but apparently without regard to their impact on the brain and central nervous system.

    Apart from the mass prescription of statins (which reduce cholesterol, of which some 25% is in the brain), the drugs cocktail for seniors seems to include aspirin and, to counter the damage that that causes to the stomach, an antacid such as Omeprazole. This (and other PPI’s like it) has some quite serious side effects in long-term use of which UK doctors may be unaware, probably because a large proportion of clinical trial results remain unpublished: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=3403 . They include Vitamin B deficiency and Magnesium deficiency.

    According to a study by Oxford University over three years ago, Vitamin B deficiency is thought to cause Alzheimer’s … but it seems no-one pursued that line of research because vitamin B isn’t patentable. Presumably you were among the G8 health ministers who received a statement by 100 international dementia experts calling for research into prevention: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2521024/Stop-trying-cure-Alzheimers-prevent-instead-says-dementia-expert.html .

    So perhaps you would like to make sure that the NHS is not contributing to the spread of dementia through flawed dietary advice and overprescription of drugs like statins and Omeprazole to older people? And perhaps you should explore replacing periodic cholesterol tests with a blood sugar test?

  • As the expected number of dementia affected people is estimated to cross over 70 million in next 20 years, there is an urgent need to make the society aware of this fact so that this we can make our contribution to fight this disease. People can contribute in their own way by spreading and helping each other in small things which have big impact on health. For example, unhealthy cholesterol result in dementia whereas walking is an exercise which strengthens memory and focus. Such knowledge and information should reach out to people and if it does not, it is our own duty to make sure it happens. Have a look at this informative topic- http://www.homecareplus.ie/blog/2013/12/a-good-walk-unspoiled-march-into-the-new-year/

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