Make 2015 the year we end the isolation of dementia

Public Health England and the Alzheimer’s Society published a report last month highlighting how people with dementia risked feelings of isolation over the Christmas period.

The numbers make stark reading – as we enter 2015 the number of people with dementia is set to top 850,000. It is estimated that by 2021 this number may rise to over a million.

Newspaper articles accompanied the release of the report, with stories of how patients with a diagnosis of dementia can be supported to overcome some of the feelings of isolation.

Shopping is a favourite activity for more than three quarters of dementia sufferers and being open about the diagnosis with shop staff can boost their confidence. Together with the Dementia Friends campaign, such openness and raised awareness can help to address problems such as a loss of independence and feelings of isolation.

There is much practical information for patients, families and carers on the NHS Choices website with links to other resources.

Many more patients, their families and carers could benefit from such support if the diagnosis is confirmed. We know that one in three people over 65 will develop dementia. The symptom of memory loss is the best known, but there are others such as difficulty with tasks requiring concentration, changes in personality or mood, periods of confusion and difficulty in finding the right words.

General practitioners are well placed to discuss and assess such symptoms and to begin the process of diagnosis if appropriate.

“When I was caring, I didn’t know what help was available and even when I did was uncomfortable with asking for help, but I knew that, like so many other carers, if I was given that little bit of support I would give my mum the best care in the world.” – Tommy Whitelaw, Dementia Carer Voices.

Already we are seeing an increased awareness of dementia, thanks to initiatives such as Dementia Friends and Dementia Carer Voices in Scotland. Following a diagnosis there is help and support available for those with dementia, their families and carers.

Maybe this year we will continue to see an increased number of people with dementia being assessed and having the diagnosis of dementia confirmed – this should help to stop the isolation felt by so many in the long December of 2014.

Nigel Acheson

Nigel Acheson is Regional Medical Director and Higher Level Responsible Officer for the South Region of NHS England. With a population of 13.4 million, the Region stretches from Cornwall to Kent and includes the cities of Bristol, Oxford and Southampton.

Born in Belfast, Nigel trained in Birmingham and was appointed as a consultant gynaecological oncologist in 2002, moving to the Royal Devon and Exeter (RD&E) Hospital in Exeter to help develop the Gynaecological Cancer Centre there and learn to sail.

From his time as a National Advisor and Clinical Lead to the Department of Health’s Enhanced Recovery Partnership Programme, Nigel actively promotes the involvement of patients as partners in their care. Whilst Medical Director for the Peninsula Cancer Network in the South West of England, Nigel helped to re-establish the patient and public group with the chair and vice-chair becoming members of the network Board.

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