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Meeting the day-to-day needs of dementia patients

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approaches to dementia care, dementia awareness, research

NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia looks at the challenges of diagnosis going into 2016:

Only a few years ago it would have been a real challenge to get a room full of people interested in dementia, to garner excitement and a real sense of possibility for what could be done.

One of the things that stands out for me, as NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia, is the fact that dementia is now something which is seen as a challenge and opportunity for a wide group of people.  It is no longer solely the purview of a particular group of clinicians, researchers or specific disease lobbyists.

So, why is that?

To use that well-worn phrase: “It’s everybody’s business”. 

If there was one thing for me that has really transformed the issue of dementia care it is that awareness is at its highest.

There is no doubt that general political interest in the disorder has been incredibly helpful. To have one Prime Minister’s Challenge on dementia is fantastic, to have two is extraordinary. Of course they are like the National Dementia Strategy in that they are a reflection of what a wide constituency of people feel is important about dementia and, as such, they mirror the current zeitgeist.

For example, in the first PM’s dementia challenge there was specific mention of the diagnosis rate, research and dementia friends. The second developed this to include post diagnostic support, extending research - £150million for a new Dementia Research Institute was announced in November 2015 - and training, along with the important tangible aspiration of having a disease modifying treatment, by 2025.

NHS England set a target that two thirds of people with dementia should have a diagnosis and post diagnostic support, and we can now say we have now fulfilled the first part of that. We must maintain that performance and ensure high quality post diagnostic support is available.

The issues going forward now are around looking across the pathway of dementia diagnosis and care. Based on the title of the National Dementia Strategy, these are:

  • Preventing well
  • Diagnosing well
  • Supporting well
  • Living well 
  • Dying well

The challenge will be to develop a narrative around these five components and key elements of success for each. 

There is significant interest in terms of prospects for new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. By next year, the first treatment which slows down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease could be licensed (please see link at the bottom of the page for more information). Any developments will need to be associated with a change in people’s view of Alzheimer’s disease in terms of investigations and the administration of the medication.

There are many challenges ahead with dementia including making sure that people get the support they need and deserve following diagnosis. Better partnerships have helped place dementia high on the agenda. Looking to 2016 the future for dementia care is met with great optimism.

Any observations, comments and suggestions gratefully received at Alistair.burns@nhs.net or @ABurns1907 on Twitter.

Link to report on treatment for Alzheimer's disease: https://www.england.nhs.uk/2015/09/15/alistair-burns-martin-rossor/

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