Dementia – “The most feared disease in the UK”

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Dementia has become the leading cause of death in the UK. It is also the most feared disease among British people, overtaking cancer and heart disease.

The term dementia refers to a variety of neurodegenerative diseases all affecting the brain. The most common impairment associated with dementia is memory loss but mobility, balance and orientation can all be triggered by dementia.

Last year 1 in 8 people in England and Wales died from dementia. Medics are suggesting the rising number of dementia related deaths is due to increased life expectancy and better diagnosis. Women are particularly more susceptible to dementia, as it has been proven that women tend to live longer than men. What is more, dementia typically develops later in life. The risk factors and chances of developing dementia increase the longer people live.

There is still no cure for the killer disease. Sarah Robertson, a medical researcher at University College London is looking into finding a cure for dementia and investigating methods of prolonging the most common symptoms of dementia.

“Billions of pounds have been spent on trying to find a cure for dementia and it’s been unsuccessful, and we’re quite far from a cure.  Different people will say different things but we have a huge crisis in care at the moment that needs to be dealt with and we need research to understand how best to provide care for people with dementia because they exist here and now and we are decades at best away from finding a treatment for them.”

She argues that the biggest crisis dementia research faces at the moment is whether or not to pour money into funding medical research for finding a cure or by supporting the care workers that have to deal with the effects of dementia on a daily basis.

Caring for someone with dementia can be physically and emotionally draining. Carers need to be on constant alert, helping patients with routine tasks on a daily basis and provide emotional comfort and support. Alzheimer’s Society predict that there are around 670,000 unpaid people in the UK working as full time dementia carers, totalling an estimated saving of £1 billion a year for the NHS.

Groups and workshops are available all over the country offering help and support to people suffering from dementia and their carers. Madhumita Bose runs a Memory Group based in Barbican every  Tuesday afternoon,at The City of London Education and Arts Centre,targeted to help anyone who has already been diagnosed with dementia or is suffering from memory loss. Here participants are able to relax, have a drink and snack, make friends, participate in activities, go on trips and enjoy listening to a variety of guest speakers.

“The session gives them a chance to talk and relax and not feel depressed about it, a lot of them are not well they are very frail, we try to encourage them to forget all of their problems”, says Madhumita.

Local communities do as much as they can to help improve the lives of people living with dementia, but as more money is funded into finding a cure for the disease, local councils are very limited with the amount of money they can allocate towards helping carers and patients.

Dementia is claiming more and more lives every year, killing 61,686 people last year. However, investigations published earlier this month in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggest that more education could delay the process of developing symptoms associated with dementia. The study found that the longer that adults are in education, the more this helps to keep the brain engaged in later life meaning that as the neurones in the brain start to deteriorate the remaining parts of the brain are able to compensate for the loss and prevent the symptoms of dementia from showing.

The investigation was conducted at the University of Michigan by Professor Kenneth Langa who said: “Our results add to a growing body of evidence that this decline in dementia risk is a real phenomenon, and that the expected future growth in the burden of dementia may not be as extensive as once thought.”

The NHS is still struggling to supply care to the millions of people suffering from dementia and the lengths to which it can stretch are becoming increasingly strained, as the population continues to live longer.

The study conducted in America that proved spending more time in education results in a smaller chance of developing symptoms of dementia has been supported by data collected across Europe giving hope to people and the health care service that the dementia diagnosis may not look as bleak as was once predicted.

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