At one time infectious diseases were regarded the greatest risk to health only to be superseded in the last half century by the likes of cancer and heart disease. Advancements in medical research and treatment have meant the usual suspects are now eclipsed by dementia as being one of the greatest global challenges for health and social care.
With an ever increasing aged population comes an equivalent rise in the number of people living with dementia and the impacts are far reaching for individuals and all elements of society. In England there are currently 670,000 sufferers, costing the economy £23bn per year. It is estimated that one in three over 65 will develop the condition prompting the need for action.
Following on from the progress of the National Dementia Strategy published in 2009 the Prime Minister launched The Dementia Challenge in 2012, designed to improve the lives of those suffering with Dementia and their families and carers. The challenge's aim is to deliver better health and care, create dementia friendly communities and support research.
The G8 dementia summit held in December in London saw the leading nation's health ministers come together to discuss the global impact of dementia. The number of dementia sufferers worldwide is expected to treble to 135m by 2050. The G8 committed to developing a cure or treatment for dementia by 2025 and said it would "develop a co-ordinated international research action plan" to advance research.
Recently there have been some positive developments in the fight back against dementia. A research study published in The Lancet showed the number of people with dementia in the UK in 2011 was lower than had been predicted on trends two decades earlier. Better health and lifestyles have been attributed to the improved outcome although caution is required for the long term as the obesity epidemic is expected to have significant consequences on dementia numbers in years to come. Improved funding into research seems to be producing dividend as UK researchers have announced an historic 'turning point' in the development of future drug treatments and with a further doubling of funding for research the future looks more optimistic .
Despite the attention that dementia attracts there are still major flaws in the quality of services sufferers and their carers receive. NICE describe the provision of services as 'patchy' and the Alzheimer's Society describe diagnosis as a 'post code lottery'.
It is estimated that half of people living with dementia go undiagnosed denying them the crucial care and support they require. At any given time one in four acute hospital beds is occupied with a patient with dementia and yet according to data from 210 hospitals in England and Wales 41% do not provide specialist training for new staff and one in ten do not train nurses.
Throughout communities as a whole there is a lack of understanding and acceptance which leads to stigma and unacceptable discrimination. The government plus other agencies and organisations are committed to driving up standards of care and patient outcomes. Dementia Friendly Communities and the Dementia Friends Programme are important contributors in developing understanding whilst multi-disciplinary collaboration is seen as a key factor for success. NICE guidance on dementia care sets out the standards to improve quality and the introduction of chief inspectors by the Care Quality Commission for both acute and primary care will further enhance patient experience.
The Dementia Challenge Conference is for those that live with, work with or are affected by dementia. Delegates will be updated on the latest developments in the fight against this most devastating condition. A line up of expert speakers and contributors will highlight the current situation, advances in work in progress and the future outlook and aspirations. The opportunity to discuss, debate and exchange examples of best practice and innovations will provide valuable insight and knowledge which can be applied to improve the quality of life for all those living with dementia.