We Should Focus on Prevention Alongside Efforts to Find a Cure for Dementia

24 February 2015

The Mental Health Foundation welcomes increased political focus on dementia, but reinforces need to support those living with dementia and for research to focus on prevention alongside efforts to find a cure or more effective treatments.
 
“As much as all of us want a cure or more effective treatments for dementia, and hope that with sufficient research these can be found, the likelihood of a breakthrough impacting on those living with dementia now and those who develop dementia in the short to medium term is minimal. To this end, and as a society, we must focus on supporting people to live with dementia and on research to prevent it in the first place”.
 
The Mental Health Foundation, which manages a series of research and development projects on dementia, has welcomed the Government's “dementia vision” announced by the Prime Minister on Saturday, but has called on decision makers in all of the political parties to provide adequate ongoing support for those living with dementia. The policy entitled “the Prime Minister's Challenge on Dementia 2020” focuses on three areas: support via the Dementia Friends initiative, setting out the ambitions on research and funding to 2020, and the launch of an international fund for pre-clinical research projects.
 
Toby Williamson, who leads the Mental Health Foundations' work in mental health in later life and dementia, said:

“The political focus on dementia is clearly to be welcomed. The problem is well documented: we have an ageing demographic, and the risk of getting dementia increases with age. As of now we have around 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, and this will continue to rise. As much as all of us want a cure or more effective treatments for dementia, and hope that with sufficient research these can be found, the likelihood of a breakthrough impacting on those living with dementia now and those who develop dementia in the short to medium term is minimal. To this end, and as a society, we must focus on supporting people to live with dementia and on research to prevent it in the first place. 
 
“As we move forward, we need to prioritise universal access to care and support that builds on some of the great practice developing in several parts of the UK, including Dementia Friends. In Scotland for example, the dementia strategy in place guarantees a year's post diagnostic support. Peer support involving people with dementia and enabling their voice to be heard are also vital. We can and should be doing more.”  
 
The Mental Health Foundation's current work on dementia includes:
 
Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP).
A project aimed at supporting the development of a UK-wide, independent network of groups, initiatives and activities led by or actively involving people with a dementia diagnosis. For more information go to http://dementiavoices.org.uk/ or  www.mentalhealth.org.uk/deep.
 
Dementia - what is truth? Inquiry. Exploring the real experience of people with more severe dementia. An 18 month UK-wide project, which started in January 2014, investigating ways of reframing our understanding of some of the most challenging and distressing symptoms of dementia – confusion, hallucinations, and “delusions” – usually experienced by people with more advanced dementia. More information and a literature review is available at: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/research/dementia-truth-telling/
 
Mapping European dementia friendly communities. Commissioned by the European Foundations Initiative on Dementia (EFID – several European independent funding bodies) we will undertake a mapping survey of dementia friendly communities across Europe. We will produce a report and guide in 2015. More information is available at: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/research/mapping-dementia-europe/
 
Self-help and isolation project. Over three years we will set up and facilitate almost 30 groups with our project partner Housing & Care 21 for older people in extra care and sheltered accommodation who experience loneliness because of dementia, mental health problems or learning disabilities. The groups will therefore be inclusive of a range of needs with a strong focus on co-production, active participation, self-help and peer support. This builds upon a very successful pilot: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/dementia-self-help-report/