Kate Lee, CEO, Alzheimer’s Society
One person every three minutes develops dementia. By 2040, 1.6 million people will have the condition in the UK. The moment you receive a diagnosis of dementia is the moment you are able to access support and care. The moment you begin to understand your symptoms and get treatments. The moment you can put plans in place so that you can live well
But at the start of 2023, only 62 percent of people with dementia in England have received a diagnosis – almost five points below the NHS target of 66.7 percent. Rates are similar across the UK, are not recovering to pre-pandemic levels, and people aren’t getting the diagnosis they need.
There is drastic variation depending on where you live when it comes to diagnosis rates. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia has identified both rurality and deprivation as potential key barriers to diagnosis. We need to understand these local factors better to really crack bringing up the overall rates of diagnosis.
Ethnicity can also be a significant barrier to diagnosis. Our report last year found that people of South Asian heritage are more likely to develop dementia than the general population. Yet, getting a dementia diagnosis if you are South Asian is often more difficult, as diagnostic tools can have cultural and language barriers.
Better diagnostic options are around the corner. Exciting advancements have been made in the use of blood biomarker tests, which can detect signs of dementia before symptoms even occur. In terms of treatments, we received the crucial news last year that a drug can slow down cognitive decline in early Alzheimer’s. There is hope out there, but it won’t reach everyone if we can’t get diagnosis right.
Diagnosis can be an intimidating process for people. Stigma around dementia still exists, as people worry that it’s a form of “going mad” or “getting old”. It’s not called getting old, it’s called getting ill.
Yes, getting a diagnosis can be daunting, I know I was terrified when my mum got diagnosed. But it is worth it – over 9 in 10 people with dementia told us they benefited from getting a diagnosis.
Care professionals can help. Encouragement can be provided to people who are thinking about getting a diagnosis. After all, a timely diagnosis can help someone make important decisions around care, treatment and support.
Going through the diagnosis process can help someone understand the type of dementia they have and access therapies, support groups and medication.
Our Dementia Symptoms Checklist, endorsed by the Royal College of General Practitioners, is a free, easy, and downloadable tool that can help patients and their families communicate their symptoms. Carers can encourage the use of the Checklist as it can help address the difficult conversations that can’t always be completed during a time-pressured appointment.
The Government announced a Major Conditions Strategy this year which recognises dementia as one of the biggest health and care challenges of our time. Dementia requires bold ambition, and we hope that this is a route for that to happen.
We may not have a cure for dementia today, but care professionals can do so much to help people with dementia get the right help, support and advice. It begins with reducing the stigma and treating diagnosis as the key that unlocks the possibility of living well with the condition.