Norman Lamb writes … Dementia: the biggest challenge of our time

My motherThere are currently 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK.  By 2021, that figure is expected to rise to over a million.  The disease costs the economy £23 billion a year, and that figure is expected to treble by 2040.

But as anyone who has come into contact with dementia will know, no statistics can convey the loneliness, isolation, and acute emotional distress that all too often comes with it – not just for those with the condition, but for their carers and family too.

Improving care for people with dementia has been one of this government’s highest priorities. It was a massive step forward to get the issue at the top of the international agenda when the UK hosted the first ever G8 Dementia Summit last December.  At home, we are doubling investment in research – not just into finding a cure or developing treatments, but also into ways of providing better care and support and preventive measures.

We have also made significant progress in improving the diagnosis rate – which has increased nationally from 39% to 49% in the last two years.  It is essential that people are diagnosed in a timely manner to make sure they can access the treatment and support they need.

And the Care Act, which I led through the House of Commons in my role as Care Minister, will help people with dementia get the support they need. There will be standard national criteria for assessing people’s care needs.  It will also make it easier for them to move across the country, perhaps to live closer to relatives, without losing their care package. And carers will have a right to an assessment of their support needs and will be treated on an equal footing to those they care for with new rights to support if they have substantial needs.

But the scale of the challenge that we face as a nation is not one that can simply be met by government services in isolation.  As a society we all have a part to play.

I want to live in a society where people with dementia, and their carers, don’t feel barred from everyday activities like shopping, meeting up at a café, or spending time with friends.  The effects of loneliness combined with dementia are devastating.

And so, the Alzheimer’s Society’s UK Dementia Friends programme is working to help people understand the condition, and what they can do to help people around them who may have dementia.  We are aiming to recruit 1 million Dementia Friends by 2015. Businesses such as Marks & Spencer are leading the way in recruiting their staff to the national dementia awareness movement, and you may have seen the fantastic advertising campaign recently launched by Public Health England and the Alzheimer’s Society.

You simply have to attend an awareness session in your local area.  I have done it myself, and found it incredibly useful.  Staff in my constituency office in North Norfolk and in Westminster have also become dementia friends and every MP in Norfolk is planning to do the same.

I want as many people across the country to sign up, so we can all play our part in helping those around us with dementia to enjoy a good quality of life, safe and supported in their community, for as long as possible. If you are interested, visit http://www.dementiafriends.org.uk.

There is a moral imperative to do what we can to tackle what is probably the biggest challenge of our time. I urge you to join us: we can only succeed together.

* 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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6 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Jun '14 - 4:58pm

    This is good distinctively liberal politics and with no spin. Norman Lamb should be in the Cabinet.

  • Norman is the embodiment of the conscience of our party with a series of excellent articles from mental health, social care, patient safety and the leading health issues of our times.

  • Steve Comer 3rd Jun '14 - 11:03pm

    Anyone who has a close relative with Dementia will appreciate what is being done. It is a truly horrible illness that all too often robs you of the person you love although their physical presence remains.

    I’m especially pleased to see improvements on the rate of diagnosis, though I’d like to know what these figures are based on. There was some debate amongst the medical profession about whether patients should be told if they are risk of Dementia. I firmly believe that we all have a right to know what conditions we have, whatever it is, and I hope early discussion with the patient will be encouraged by the Dept. of Health.

  • Maybe this will improve things – who knows? Certainly there is plenty of scope for improvement. Communication between different agencies of the state seems to be minimal (no one told me I was meant to be notifying the DVLA that my father couldn’t drive any more). Many things seem to rely on people’s families sorting things out – and often the legal and administrative procedures seem to be designed to make things as difficult as possible for them. And what happens to people who don’t have any immediate family, I don’t know.

  • George Crozier 4th Jun '14 - 10:18pm

    Really important stuff. Keep up the good work Norman.

  • Ruth Bright 4th Jun '14 - 11:44pm

    It is great that Norman is being so clear about the value of diagnosis. There are many sources of social and community support for people with dementia even when there are no medical options. It would also be very interesting to know his views on the ethics of telecare.

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