Dealing with dementia

5834274_lNorthern Ireland’s first dementia strategy explains how a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the condition, but progress is slow.

Progress on tackling dementia is being held up by a lack of funding and the long time taken to prepare policy in government, according to the Public Health Agency.

The Department of Health, Public Services and Social Services’ previous policy document on dementia dated from 1994 and was updated in a draft dementia strategy published in May 2010.  An analysis of consultation responses was completed in November 2010.  However, the Assembly election intervened and the final version (‘Improving Dementia Services in Northern Ireland’) was only published in November 2011.

At the time, Health Minister Edwin Poots said that he would ideally invest £6-8 million in the strategy but the money was not available.  A working group will report back to the department in November.

An agency spokesman told agendaNi that the group is currently assessing whether some actions “are achievable by the original target date.” He added: “Given that the strategy was published later than expected, and without additional resources to aid implementation, it is the group’s current view that some actions may need a revised target date.”

The department said that it would “give consideration to any changes requested by the group”.

In all its forms, the nerve cells in the brain are damaged and die faster than normal, thus causing a gradual decline in a person’s ability to think, remember and learn. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for around half of cases.

Longer life expectancies have resulted in more people developing the condition.  People with learning disabilities also tend to age earlier in life, and are therefore more susceptible.  Medical research also indicates that smoking, excessive drinking, obesity and high blood pressure contribute to the onset of dementia.

Much of the strategy involves drawing up new guidelines to ensure that information about dementia is communicated, to the public, health professionals and affected families.  If society as a whole understood dementia better, early diagnoses would become more commonplace and less stigma would be associated with the condition.
Primary care staff and specialists in dementia are asked to work more closely together to make sure that good quality services are provided.  This includes asking carers about their needs and ensuring that they have clear information on how to care for their loved one and whom to contact when they need help.

When consulted, people with dementia said that the national and local media needed to be more informed about the condition.  They also called for a ‘key worker’ to be assigned to each person affected, and for help to make their own decisions while they are able to do so.

The Public Health Agency will continue to support research, especially projects with a strong element of patient or public involvement.  The Health and Social Care Board is assessing the design of existing facilities for dementia care and the Mental Capacity Bill (agendaNi issue 53, page 109) also forms part of the strategy.

This is a practical outcome from the Bamford review. Bamford found that people with dementia are “often not afforded the time, respect and level of care they deserve” and the strategy will therefore be measured against how well the Health Service and society in general treats this vulnerable group of individuals.

Dementia in numbers

Dementia affects around 19,000 people in Northern Ireland, including 400-1,000 people aged under 65.  The overall number could increase to 23,000 by 2017 and around 60,000 by 2051.  Alongside that, the cost of care for dementia is expected to rise from £230 million in 2009-2010 to £460 million in 2029-2030.

Related Posts