Alzheimer's Society calls for action as scale and cost of dementia soars

Published 10 September 2014

The cost of dementia to the UK has hit £26 billion a year – enough to pay the energy bills of every household in the country, finds an Alzheimer's Society report published today (Wednesday 10 Sept)

People with dementia, their carers and families shoulder two-thirds of the cost themselves. The charity is urging the government to end the artificial divide between health and social care which unfairly disadvantages people with dementia.

Dementia UK: The Second Edition, prepared by the London School of Economics and King's College London, is the most comprehensive review of dementia in the UK to date. It reveals how people with dementia and their carers are left footing a £5.8 billion social care bill for help with everyday tasks such as washing and dressing. The 1.3 billion hours of unpaid care that carers, usually spouses or adult children, provide would cost the state £11.6 billion if they did not provide it for free. Meanwhile the current cost of dementia diagnosis and treatment to the NHS comes in at £4.3 billion and local authorities pick up a further £4.5 billion.

The new research also reveals that numbers of those affected by dementia is soaring. By the next general election in 2015, there will be 850,000 people living with dementia. If current trends stay the same and no action is taken, this number is expected to bypass two million by 2051.

In addition to Dementia UK, Alzheimer's Society has published Dementia 2014: An Opportunity for Change which provides a snapshot of how well people with dementia are living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It draws together evidence from a survey of over 1,000 people with dementia. Key findings include:
  • Just over half of people with dementia (58 per cent), reported to be living well.
  • Nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) said they had felt anxious or depressed recently.
  • 7 out of 10 people were living with another medical condition or disability as well as dementia.
  • Of those looked after by a carer, 43 per cent said their carer received no help with their caring role.
Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer's Society, said:

'This new research exposes the staggering financial and human impact of dementia. It is plain to see that our social care system is on its knees, leaving an army of tens of thousands of unpaid carers bearing the brunt. If you have cancer or heart disease you can quite rightly expect that the care you need will be free. That is just not the case for people with dementia. Families are forced to break the bank to pay for basic care for a loved one.

'These spiralling costs cannot continue unchecked. 225,000 people develop dementia in the UK every year - that is one every three minutes. While government has woken up to the challenge dementia presents, today's report reveals we need radical solutions and serious funding commitments to put social care on a sustainable footing.'

Alzheimer's Society is calling for a successor to the Prime Minister's Challenge on dementia, which is scheduled to end in just over six months. It should prioritise:
  • A 66 per cent dementia diagnosis rate across all areas so that people do not miss out on the support currently available – with a commitment now to reach 75 per cent by 2017
  • No one to wait longer than 12 weeks from seeing their GP to diagnosis
  • A guarantee that everyone has access to a Dementia Adviser or equivalent following a diagnosis to help them live as well as possible at all stages of the condition
Jeremy Hughes continued:

'While in recent years there has been a small improvement in dementia diagnosis rates, a postcode lottery still prevails. Everyone with dementia should have access to the certainty of a diagnosis and the right support to come to terms with and manage the condition. If we do not see a nationwide effort to improve diagnosis rates we could see more than a million people living with dementia without a diagnosis by 2051.'

Pearl McCreadie, 58, from Widnes in Cheshire, cares for her husband John, 78, who has mixed dementia (vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease). She said:

'I gave up work when John was diagnosed with dementia - caring for him is now my full time job. It's a lot of responsibility and it's difficult to manage him on my own. Mostly I don't get a minute to myself until 10 o'clock at night because I've been on my feet all day, helping John to wash, shave, clean his teeth, ensuring he's taken the right medication, and making sure he's happily occupied. Often I have to get up in the night when he wakes too. He's my husband so of course I don't begrudge it – I love him and only want the best for him, but there needs to be more support for carers. I've spent all my savings on adjusting the house and I don't have any money left at the end of the week for extras.'

Martin Knapp, LSE Professor of Social Policy, said:

'The cost of dementia is high, but the key question is what does that cost buy? We need to make sure that people with dementia and their carers get effective and cost-effective treatment, care and support.'

Professor Martin Prince, Professor of Epidemiological Psychiatry at King's College London, said:

'This report highlights that the numbers of people with dementia now needing care and support already pose a significant challenge for health and social care, government and society. Their needs will only be met through concerted and focused attention. The scale of the future dementia epidemic in the UK can probably be limited through more attention to prevention - our progress towards achieving healthier brain ageing needs to be monitored in regular national surveys.'

This report comes the day before the G7 Global Dementia Legacy Event in Canada. Here they will discuss the progress made since the G8 Summit on Dementia Research where they committed to find a cure or disease modifying treatment by 2025. 

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