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“Living better” with dementia is desirable, but what does it mean for care?

Dementia graphic

After having thought about it for more than one year, I’ve concluded that the term ‘living well with dementia’ is not the right one. For a start, it implies some objective, sometimes unattainable, standard. Also, I feel that some people are clearly not well with dementia with the dreadful state of post-diagnostic care and support in some parts of the country, or personal symptoms which are difficult to manage (not living well with dementia from a lack of ability to communicate verbally, or intense ‘night terrors’). Each person living with dementia is more than the dementia, and I am mindful of not projecting an over sanitised portrayal of the dementias.

Somebody I truly admire in her work and general campaigning on dementia is Beth Britton. Beth has already made a huge impact in the co-production group at the CQC, and will, I am sure, make a massive impact on the Carers’ Commission. Having founded D4Dementia in May 2012, the blog was a finalist in the Roses Media Awards 2012 and has developed a huge following in the UK and internationally. The blog is genuinely loved and supported by thousands of families, carers, people with dementia, health and social care professionals, policy makers, leaders and anyone looking for a highly informative, personal and authoritative perspective on dementia.

I will publish my book ‘Living better with dementia: looking to the future’ later this year (around June – July 2015) with Jessica Kingsley Publishers. I feel that this book, although adopting both a domestic and international viewpoint, fits in very nicely with Beth’s corpus of impressively high quality work.


Chapter 1 provides an introduction to current policy in England, as it currently stands, including a review of the need for a ‘timely diagnosis’ as well as a right to timely post-diagnostic care. This has been a vocal concern of Baroness Sally Greengross, the current Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for dementia.

In England, the issue of the ‘timely diagnosis’ is an exquisitely sensitive one.

We’re lucky Beth, Ming Ho and Sal Marciano have contributed to this debate: viz:

Other carers, Beth Britton, Sally Ann Marciano and Ming Ho contributed their experience emphasising that support is essential and that good outcomes for the whole family, in addition to those of the person with dementia, should be taken into consideration.

This chapter also provides an overview of the current evidence base of the hugely popular “Dementia Friends” campaign run very successfully by the Alzheimer’s Society and Public Health England, to raise awareness about five key ‘facts’ about dementia. It was intended that this campaign should help to mitigate against stigma and discrimination that can be experienced by people living with dementia and their caregivers. The ‘proof of the pudding’ will come when the outcome of turning communication into action is assessed objectively.


Chapter 2 comprises a preliminary analysis of stigma, citizenship and the notion of ‘living better with dementia’. This chapter explains the urgency of the need to “frame the narrative” properly. This chapter also introduces the “Dementia Alliance International” group, which has fast become a highly influential campaigning force by people living with dementia for people living with dementia.

It is hoped that openness in discussion will help to mitigate against a deeply entrenched stigma by some.

Beth advises, in the Huffington Post, that:

As Margaret Thatcher joins the many people with dementia who have passed before her, and debates rage about her political legacy, I would argue that this is a time to talk as openly about her most recent experiences as it is to reflect on her career. An opportune moment for us all to think about what having dementia means, whether you are a former prime minister, a doctor, a professor, a grocer, a bus conductor or a refuse collector. Dementia brings a whole new meaning to being ‘all in this together’.


Chapter 3 looks at the various issues facing the timely diagnosis and post-diagnostic support of people living with dementia from diverse cultural backgrounds, including people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, people who are lesbian, bisexual, gay or transsexual, and people with intellectual difficulties. Attention is paid to the various intricate ways in which exact culture can impact not only on the timely diagnosis of dementia but also in the post-diagnostic care.


Chapter 4 looks at the issue of how different jurisdictions around the world have formulated their national dementia strategies. Examples discussed of countries and continents are Africa, Australia, China, Europe, India, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Scotland. There is remarkable convergence in the efforts of various jurisdictions, and it is here I first introduce the critical importance of collaboration. A major plus here has been the contribution of the Alzheimer’s Disease International in their work on the need for national dementia policies, and how to implement them.


Chapter 5 looks at the intense care vs care debate which has now surfaced in young onset dementia. There is a potentially problematic schism between resources being allocated into drugs for today and resources being used to fund adequately contemporary care to promote people living better with dementia. An example is discussed of how the policy of ‘Big Data’ had gathered momentum across a number of jurisdictions, offering personalised medicine as a further potential component of “person-centred care”.

This chapter also considers the impact of the diagnosis of younger onset dementia on the partner of the person with dementia as well. It can never be considered that a diagnosis is given in isolation:

As Beth remarks,

For us, devoid of any additional support or resources, we simply had to learn about dad’s dementia as it progressed, inevitably making mistakes along the way, but always trying our best to understand what his life was like and what he needed. Through the work I do now, I aim to use that knowledge to improve the lives of all those who are touched by dementia, increasing awareness and education in society as a whole, and transforming the care given to people with dementia and their families.

A candid description in my book was also given about the possible sequelae of the diagnosis of young onset dementia on employment, caregivers, and in social isolation.


Chapter 6 focuses on delirium, or the acute confusional state, and dementia. It attempts to explain why delirium and dementia might converge in policy, after all. There are general issues of whether it is possible to inject incentives into the system at critical points. However, in parallel with this, there is an active debate as to why delirium (however so labeled) is not picked up sometimes in hospital, why people who experience an episode of delirium can do quite badly in the long run, and what to do in the special case of a person living with dementia with delirium superimposed on that.


Chapter 7 is the largest chapter in this book, and takes as its theme care and support networks. I make no apologies about the length of this chapter, as I have been hugely influenced by the Dementia Action Alliance Carers Call to Action in the last year.

Beth comments that:

Most carers are totally unprepared for what caring will involve and have no idea when their caring role will end. They often ‘fall into’ caring, simply by taking on small responsibilities that escalate, triggering experiences that untrained family carers can find very difficult to cope with.

There is huge interest internationally in the subject of ‘what makes a good care home’, as Beth comments:

For me the gold-standards that every family should be looking for from a care home are person-centred care, compassion, dignity and respect. You want to know that your loved one will be treated as an individual in every possible aspect – not just another box to tick on a care plan. You also want to know that they will have access to anything and everything that constitutes therapeutic dementia care, and not just a range of set ‘activities’ that they have no interest in participating in.

The idea of families and professionals working side by side is a very powerful one.

Beth takes this idea up here:

This shows that when families and professionals work side-by-side it often creates a unique, and holistic, model of care. Relatives can also benefit from the support and knowledge that professionals caring for their loved one can provide in challenging times.

It should never be the case that those who have spent years being educated in their subject feel that their clinical training and evidence based approach carries greater weight, or that families adopt the viewpoint that their emotional ties and personal experience is all that is needed to effectively care for their loved one.


In my book, an overview of how patient-centred care is different from person-centred care is given, and how person-centred care differs from relationship-centred care. I feel, personally, that the literature has thus far excessively focused on the ‘dyadic relationship’ between the person with dementia and caregiver, but a need to enlarge this to a professional in a ‘triangle of care’ and extended social networks was further elaborated and emphasised.

Different care settings are described, including care homes, hospitals – including acute hospital care, and intermediate care. This chapter first introduces the critical role of clinical nursing specialists in dementia in providing proactive case management in a person-centred care philosophy.

However, Beth is right, in my opinion, to bring up the notion that “care homes are not police states“; rather care homes could be open to scrutiny whilst being part of an extended community.

Britton has her suspicions about the events that led to this crisis, but she is unable to prove them. Based on that experience, she supports the idea of CCTV in care home rooms on an opt-in basis: “A camera might not have saved his life, but it would have told us what happened. However, I don’t think they should be put everywhere for everyone. We don’t want to turn care homes into a police state.”


Chapter 8 considers eating for living well with dementia. This chapter considers enforceable standards in care homes, including protection against malnutrition or undernutrition. The main focus of the chapter is how people with dementia might present with alterations in their eating behaviour, and how the mealtime environment must be a vital consideration for living better with dementia. Eating well with dementia is clearly not all about finger snacks and the such like.


Chapter 9 looks at a particular co-morbidity, incontinence. Focusing on the various co-morbidities will be an opportunity of a whole person approach for a person living with dementia, during health as well as illness. The emphasis of this chapter is on conservative approaches for living well with dementia and incontinence. Other issues considered here are the impact of incontinence on personhood per se, and the possible impact on the move towards an institutional home.

Incontinence for a person living well with dementia is not all about pads. We have to, as a society, wish to talk about incontinence for people living with dementia, and I am hoping this chapter is a help.

I feel Beth has been instrumental – in her work – in breaking down societal taboos, for example:

How do you feel about the idea of needing someone to dress you, wash you, help you to the toilet or change your incontinence pads, feed you, give you medication, move you around, and enable you to watch the TV programmes of your choosing or listen to the music that you love?

This is day-to-day life for the many people who receive care. Such dependence can happen at any age, but it becomes more likely as you get older, making the need for care something people fear the most as they approach their mature years.


Chapter 10 argues how the needs for people living better with dementia would be best served by a fully integrated health and social care service in the form of “whole person care”. This chapter provided the rationale behind this policy instrument in England. This chapter argues how the needs for people living better with dementia would be best served by a fully integrated health and social care service. Currently too many NHS patients cannot be discharged out of social care in a timely fashion.

We certainly do need to be looking forward to the future now.

As Beth says,

In 15 years’ time we must have a health and social care system that is (finally) fully integrated. The UK should be leading the way in providing aged care, and recognising and fully supporting the role of family carers. More broadly, I want to be living in a society that makes ageing something we embrace and nurture, not something to be sneered at, marginalised and locked away.


Chapter 11 considers the importance of the social determinants of health. The framework, I argue, is eminently sensible for organising one’s thoughts about dementia friendly communities. The focus of this chapter is housing. I focused on design of buildings in my previous book ‘Living well with dementia’, but I wished to articulate here the wider context of the importance of housing for a person living well with dementia. Housing for living well with dementia is not just about buildings, and is pivotally enmeshed with the person centred care philosophy of projected English policy.


With such a broad brush tool as equality and “dementia friendly communities”, the scope for squashing diversity is enormous. Few topics enter the realms of “one glove does not fit all” to the same degree as the potential use of global positioning systems for dementia. Chapter 12 considers whether ‘wandering’ is the most appropriate term. The main emphasis of this chapter is the legal and ethical considerations in the use of ‘global positioning systems’ in enhancing the quality of life of persons with dementia and their closest ones. A central theme of this chapter is what might be best for the piece of mind of the person in a caring role might not be entirely synchronous as the wishes of the person himself or herself with dementia. To show how extreme the term “wandering” potentially becomes, I am aware of some friends of mine living with dementia who simply wish to go for a pleasant walk, but are frightened of being labeled as “wanderers”.


Chapter 13 considers head-on a number of important contemporary issues, with a main emphasis on human rights and “rights based approaches”. While there is no universal right to a budget, the implementation of personal budgets is discussed. This policy strand is indeed very complex. The chapter progresses to consider a number of legal issues which are arising, including genetic discrimination in the US jurisdiction, dementia as a disability under the equality legislation in England, and the importance of rights-based approaches for autonomy and dignity.

Nonetheless, “personalisation” remains a powerful strand in policy across many successive governments.

As Beth notes – in an apolitical way:

The first and most important thing to stress is that everyone is an individual, so what works for one person won’t work for another. True quality of life is only achieved through personalisation, therefore it is vital that everything you help someone with dementia to do, achieve or enjoy is what they have or would choose for themselves.


Too often the debate about dementia can be engulfed in a diatribe about ‘cost’ not ‘value’. Persons living better with dementia wish to contribute effectively with the outside world, and the feeling is mutual. Chapter 14 is primarily concerned with art and creativity, which can be incredibly empowering for some people trying to live better with dementia. This chapter takes as its focus on how living with dementia could lead to art and creativity. This chapter also looks at the exciting developments in our understanding of the perception of music in people living with dementia, and why music has the potential to enhance the quality of life for a person living well with dementia through its intrinsic features as a reward.


Too often the focus in international policies is on medications.

I believe the interest in ‘reminiscence’ is very well deserved.

Beth describes it thus:

Dad’s room was filled with pictures, cushions depicting farmyard scenes and life-like soft toy animals – everything chosen because it told some part of his story. At the heart of that was dad’s memory box displaying captioned photographs charting dad’s life from his birth to mine, alongside emblems that represented his home county and favourite football team.

All of these reminiscence therapies combined to keep dad’s identity alive, much in the same way that resources like Memory Bank can do for people who are living with dementia today. These aids help to focus on the uniqueness of the individual, and provide focal points for conversation that ensure each person’s story is brought to life.

Chapter 15 looked at the triggering of football sporting memories in people living well with dementia. This chapter considers the cognitive neuroscience of the phenomenon of this triggering, and presents a synthesis of how the phenomenon could be best explained through understanding the role of emotional memory in memory retrieval, how autobiographical memories are represented in the human brain usually, the special relevance of faces or even smells such as “Bovril”. The triggering of football memories may have some neuroscientific commonalities with the triggering of musical memories, and it will be interesting in the future to identify carefully which people living better with dementia benefit from such reminiscence approaches.


Chapter 16 looks at the impact of various innovations in English dementia policy, giving as examples including service provision (such as the policy on reducing inappropriate use of antipsychotics or the policy in timely diagnosis) and research. This policy goes through the current evidence for this evidence in particular detail, and considers how culture change may be effected internationally for quality in this policy area. This chapter tries to convey the complexity of the issue, and to explain in a fair way why deep down in this policy plank are traditional concerns to do with ‘continuity of care’ and ‘valid consent’.


Chapter 17 looks at how leadership could be promoted by people living with dementia themselves. I first introduce the need for this in Chapter 2. Chapter 17 considers who might lead the change, where and when, and why this change might be necessary to ‘recalibrate’ the current global debate about dementia. This chapter considers how change might be brought about from the edge, how silos might be avoided, the issue of ‘tempered radicals’ in the context of transformative change to wellbeing as an outcome; and finally how ‘Dementia Champions’ are vital for this change to be effected.


Finally, I attempt a Conclusion at Chapter 18.



Inspirational people in dementia? I know them when I see them.

My interest in dementia started about 17 years when a graduate student in cognitive neurology at the University of Cambridge.

There’s one thing I can say about brilliant people. They never advertise themselves as brilliant.

Take for example when I showed Prof Trevor Robbins my findings from a group of patients with the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia on a test of ability to switch “cognitive set”.

What’s “cognitive set”?

Say I asked you to think of a colour. “Red”

And another? “Green”

And another? “Blue”

Now tell me the name of a shape.


I am unable to shift cognitive set. I am “stuck in set”.

Anyway, it was a bit more complicated than that. I was on the Downing Site in the head of department’s office at the University of Cambridge in 1998.

He said, “That’s amazing!” And then pulled off the top shelf a paper from a journal on psychopharmacology and showed me the virtually same graph from adults who’d been given a ‘low tryptophan drink’. This had depleted a chemical in their brain called serotonin, it’s thought.

That’s brilliant.

Or take another time when I was a hapless junior doctor on Prof Martin Rossor’s dementia and cognitive disorders firm at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

I was asked to do the investigations for a man in his 30s who’d presented with a profound change in behaviour and personality over several years, who’d also had some vague memory problems.

I was advised to stick a needle in his back to get some fluid off his spinal cord in virtually a space suit for protection.

I organised the MRI brain scan. I showed it to Dr John Stevens at the National. He said, “You know what is, don’t you?”


“HIV dementia”

“What does he do out of interest?”

“He’s a lap dancer in Soho.”

That’s brilliant.

You see, I know brilliant people in the dementia arena when I see them, and almost virtually always they never shout about their abilities.

Take for example Kate Swaffer and her brilliant blogpost on dementia and human rights this morning.

Or Beth Britton’s consistent work on raising awareness of issues about caring.

Hunt tweet

And Ming Ho’s work too. And Darren Gormley’s. And Jo Moriarty’s.

I don’t need book reviews, award ceremonies or conferences to tell me how inspirational or brilliant people are.

I don’t wish to use Twitter for that either.

The phrase “I know it when I see it” was a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorise an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters.

The phrase was famously used in this sense by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v Ohio (1964).

Dementia is not the same as an obscenity. But the same principles for this test apply, I humbly submit, m’lad.

The #G8Dementia Summit – a curious lack of a person-centred approach in the research strategy

Trade fair for blog

David Cameron should be given credit for making ‘dementia’ the topic for discussion of the G8 on 11th December 2013. But the event runs the risk of being a trade fair for the pharmaceutical industry, becoming increasingly desperate to prove their worth in dementia and society.

However, it is widely acknowledged that cholinesterase inhibitors, drugs that boost levels of acetylcholine in the brain to improve attention and memory, have a modest effect if that in the majority of patients with early dementia of the Alzheimer type (‘dementia of the Alzheimer type’). There is no robust evidence that they slow down disease progression in humans from human studies of patients.

Many senior academic experts feel conversely that there has been insufficient attention put into interventions that actually do help people to live well with DAT. Such interventions include improving the design of the home, design of the built environment (including signage and pavements), non-statutory advocacy, dementia-friendly communities, assistive technology and ambient living innovations.

On Wednesday 4th December 2013, a ‘research summit’ was held for the press for “research into dementia”. The main focus of this research summit was how can one best predict who will get dementia or when, do we even know what causes dementia yet, what “cures” are there in the pipeline, what can be done to prevent dementia, what obstacles are pharmacological researchers facing, does Pharma have sufficient resources, and what needs to be done to make the Dementia Summit a success.

The focus of this ‘summit’ into ‘research into dementia’ was not living well with dementia, which is a gobsmacking tragedy for all those involved in promoting living well with dementia.

What is overwhelmingly absent is a ‘person centred approach’ which has been a major force for good in contemporary dementia care in England.

The panel members, according to the brief, were: Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development, Alzheimer’s Society; Prof Nick Fox, Professor of Neurology, MRC Senior Clinical Fellow, Institute of Neurology, University College London; Prof Simon Lovestone, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, Director of NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London and Lead for the Translational Research Collaboration in Dementia (a network of 6 centres established by the NIHR); Prof Peter Passmore, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, Queen’s College Belfast and Lead for Dementia for The British Geriatrics Society; and Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research, Alzheimer’s Research UK.

To show how little there was on wellbeing, and discussing innovative ways to allow people to live well with dementia, here’s the official write up from the BMJ this week:

“Nick Fox, professor of neurology and a Medical Research Council senior clinical fellow at the Institute of Neurology at University College London, said, “We should be asking the G8 collectively to double the research spending on dementia within five years.

“And I think there is a lovely equitable way of looking at this. We ask the G8 countries to commit 1% of their dementia costs to add another doubling of research spending within 10 years.”

Brown said the aims of the research were to enable more accurate and timely diagnosis of dementia; to create disease modifying treatment to try to stop, slow, or reverse the condition; and to find drugs to treat the symptoms. Most importantly, he said, researchers needed to understand how dementia developed to enable the risk to be reduced and onset of dementia to be prevented or at the very least delayed. “If we could delay the onset by five years we could probably cut the numbers of [people with] dementia in half,” he said.

Fox said that past trials of treatments had concentrated on people with symptoms of the disease, which was “like trialling chemotherapy when people are already in a hospice.” Now, he said, treatments were beginning to be tested in people who were at higher risk of dementia because they had a family history or other genetic risk factors or because scans had shown early features of the disease.

Scans and other techniques could then be used to track the effects of treatment before symptoms appeared. “Only if we can identify people where we can see whether our therapies are having an effect will we ever make progress,” Fox said.

Peter Passmore, professor of old age psychiatry at Queen’s College Belfast and the British Geriatrics Society’s lead on dementia, said that as more was known about the mechanism of dementia, researchers were looking at drugs licensed for other conditions that might impinge on those mechanisms. “That’s cheaper drug development: those drugs are off patent,” he said.”

Many thanks to @sam4wong for sharing this with us on Twitter this morning.

Sadly, this representation of research for #G8dementia has taken on more of an appearance of a corporate international trade fair, which is a crying shame. This is, ironically, in the week that the World Trade Organization has apparently agreed its first-ever global deal aimed at boosting commerce.

A trade fair (trade show, trade exhibition or expo) is an exhibition organised so that companies in a specific industry can showcase and demonstrate their latest products, service, study activities of rivals and examine recent market trends and opportunities. In contrast to consumer fairs, only some trade fairs are open to the public, while others can only be attended by company representatives (members of the trade, e.g. professionals) and members of the press, therefore trade shows are classified as either “Public” or “Trade Only”. However, the G8 next week would be at considerable risk of being hijacked by market forces, if it were not for the valiant efforts of the Department of Health and people who have devoted their lives to raising dementia awareness too. Trade fairs are helpful for marketing of products to a wider audience.

James Murray-White (@sky_larking) is a film-maker, and campaigns perennially for raising dementia awareness. James announced yesterday that he was proud to be part of a central network of dementia ‘activists’ on Twitter, but had just reported on the same media network that he had recently been refused ‘press accreditation’ for #G8dementia.

Earlier this year, filmmakers and scientists came together at this event to increase the public understanding of dementia. This event comprised series of short films about dementia, curated by Murray-White, will precede a discussion with researchers from the University of Bristol and other institutions supported by @AlzheimersBRACE, a local charity that funds research into Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Panel speakers included: Professor Seth Love (Professor of Neuropathology); Laura Palmer (South West Dementia Brain Bank Manager); James Murray-White (filmmaker).

However, all is not lost, by any means.  Beth Britton (@BethyB1886) will be participating in a short film for #G8dementia. Prof Alistair Burns (@ABurns1907), the Clinical Lead for Dementia in England, has written of Britton:

“Beth Britton has been a breath of fresh air in the discussions and debates around dementia. She brings a clarity of thought and originality of ideas which I have always found very refreshing and helpful when considerations and discussions of the importance of people with dementia and their carers are concerned. She has a unique writing style and a gifted ability to convey ideas and experiences”

Beth is one of the U.K.’s leading campaigners on dementia. Her experience of supporting her father, who was living with dementia, and her professional background, give her unparalleled insight into effective ways of campaigning for change, it is widely felt.

There are people who are simply interested in individuals with people  – the person not the drug. For example, Lucy Jane Masters (@lucyjmasters) is a dementia nurse specialist, advocating for change, an educator, and primarily passionate about that person with dementia and those who care for him or her.

Alistair has for long time emphasised the importance of “a timely diagnosis”, rather than an “early diagnosis”. This is very much in keeping with the notion that the potential diagnosis should be offered at a time personally appropriate to any particular individual. Alistair also believes, in his rôle as part of NHS England, that there should be a reasonable level of “post-diagnosis support”. Academics generally agree that the tenure of Alistair as the National Lead for Dementia in England has been a very successful experience for all involved.

There are few people as inspirational too as Norman McNamara, who has campaigned tirelessly to dissolve the stigma which can surround dementia. He can be very easily found on Twitter for example (@NormanMcNamara). McNamara has written poignantly about his own personal experiences of ‘living with dementia’.

Sally (@nursemaiden) was a senior nurse, but likewise now promotes heavily wellbeing in dementia, with her father with dementia of the Alzheimer type having passed away on 1st September 2012.

And it truly is an international ‘effort': Kate Swaffer (@KateSwaffer) in Australia – who has just met up with Gill Phillips who advocates ‘paths to personalisation’, has written brilliantly about her experiences of the dementia diagnosis.

Indeed, it would not be hyperbolic to say that many people have given up much free time into the world of the dementias, as a vocation. Lee (@dragonmisery) has produced an incredible information provision website for carers of people with dementia, and this has advanced the policy plank promoting choice and control in wellbeing.

Twitter has been particularly successful at giving people a voice at last. Charmaine Hardy (@charbhardy) is one of the most prominent members of this very close community. Her profile reveals that her husband, whom she adores, has a rare dementia known as primary progressive aphasia. Anyone following Charmaine knows exactly the emotional intensity of someone caring for somebody with dementia.

Likewise, Thomas Whitelaw (@TommyNTour) has literally been ‘on tour’ talking with amazing authentic emotion, affectionately, about his mother, Joan Whitelaw, who had been living with dementia.

So why such a focus on pharmacology?

Why so little on ‘person centred care’?

This glaring omission of person centred care in #G8 dementia apart from representations below is utterly embarrassing and humilating for the thousands of researchers and practitioners who work in this area. @MrDarrenGormley‘s award-winning blog is a most useful introduction to this area.

And, although deeply enmeshed in the English health policy which has sometimes been far from controversy, the efforts of the Department of Health itself have been most impressive.

Anna Hepburn (@AnnaHepburnDH) is Digital Communications Manager for Social Care at the Department of Health. Anna is well known to be genuinely interested in the views of people living with dementia, and those closest to them.

Anna remarked recently,

“When people with dementia and their partners were invited to the Department of Health recently, there was one simple statement that stuck in my mind: “We are still people”. It came as a bit of a shock coming from one of the articulate and funny people gathered round the table. But it says it all about the misconceptions and stigma surrounding dementia.”

Anna Hepburn continued,

“On 18 November, I had the privilege of meeting more people with dementia, as well as current and former carers of people with dementia, who came to London to make short films to show at the G8 dementia summit. This is so we can bring their voices – and the reality of dementia – into the room on 11 December.”

But as a result of the research summit and other efforts from the media and select researchers, the headlines have been rather sensational and sadly all too predictable, viz:

Unprecedented breakthrough in the hunt for a dementia drug within ‘five years'” (Independent)

“G8 ministers warned to prepare for global dementia ‘time bomb’” (Times)

Monthly injection to prevent Alzheimer’s in five years” (Telegraph)

Jab to slow Alzheimer’s ‘is just five years away': Monthly treatment could be given a decade before symptoms” (Daily Mail)

Dementia cases ‘set to treble worldwide’ by 2050” (BBC)

The last one has been the most difficult for real experts  in the research community with real knowledge of the problems facing international research.

On the other hand, Mr Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society, according to that final BBC report cited above, said: “Dementia is fast becoming the biggest health and social care challenge of this generation.”

“We must tackle dementia now, for those currently living with the condition across the world and for those millions who will develop dementia in the future.”

There has been much media interest in improving diagnosis rates in England, driven more by the dementia charities than public health physicians or GPs.  Whilst undoubtedly a ‘cure’ for dementia would be wonderful, it is rarely reported that dementia rates are in fact considered to be dropping.  Medical doctors such as Dr Peter Gordon (@PeterDLROW; a NHS Consultant Psychiatrist) and Dr Martin Brunet (@DocMartin68; a NHS General Practitioner) have been invaluable as “thought leaders” in forging ahead with an evidence-based approach to this complex issue, cutting through the media garb and spin (and promotional copy).

Very recently in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, it was reported that, “Although demographics will drive an increase in the number of dementia cases, recent reports — generally based on population-based community studies or survey data — point to declining age-specific prevalence or incidence rates among people born later in the first half of the 20th century”

You can follow live digital coverage of the G8 dementia summit on the Dementia Challenge site on 11 December 2013. Well done to all those involved, particularly the grassroots campaigners, Anna Hepburn, and the Department of Health!

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