MP WRITES: We must improve how we tackle dementia

Sir Terry Pratchett, who died at the age of 66
Sir Terry Pratchett, who died at the age of 66

You may have seen that last week, Terry Pratchett, the author, had died.

He was the biggest selling novelist of the 1990s and second only to Harry Potter’s JK Rowling for numbers of books sold around the world in modern times.

Dementia is forecast to increase, but it doesn’t have to be this way

About 10 years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and made funny and moving TV programmes about living with the condition.

He showed dignity, passion and determination in wanting to raise awareness about dementia.

The fact is that more and more people in our country are developing dementia.

The chances of this increase with age, and as people in this country are living longer, it is becoming an increasing part of society. It is estimated that one in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia.

There are 850,000 people living with the condition at the moment, but given the ageing population, this is set to top a million people in just over five years.

The Alzheimer’s Society had a Parliament Day this week. A large number of constituents had written to me, asking if I could attend. I replied saying that I would, and I was pleased to receive some lovely and moving replies back from people in Hartlepool, saying that their mother or father was living with the condition and more needed to be done to draw attention to it, as well as providing much better care and diagnosis.

At the Parliament Day I met a woman who is living with Alzheimer’s. She lives in the Midlands, although she was lovely enough to say she recognised that Hartlepool and the North East were “God’s own country”.

In my ignorance, I asked whether she had noticed that she started forgetting things like names or where she had left her keys.

She was very kind and gentle in explaining that that is not how the condition progressed. She said that on occasions she couldn’t get out of bed because she couldn’t recall how to get dressed.

She told me of a time when she felt uncomfortable in her clothes and then realised she had put on four pairs of underpants.

She had gone to her doctors and was told she had early-stage Alzheimer’s and then....nothing. No help. No support. No plan for what treatments and then medications needed to be taken.

Can you imagine if the same thing had happened if she had been diagnosed with cancer?

The difference in approach is striking and I think it is important that this is tackled.

The previous Labour Government introduced the first ever National Dementia Strategy for England. The present Government has tried to build on this by attempting to deliver improvements to dementia treatment. But there is still far too little progress.

There remains in some places a stigma attached to dementia, and it is often stated that it is just a natural part of ageing. This is not the case, even though we have an ageing population. Diagnosis rates across the country are still too low and support is often too patchy. Organisations up and down the country are not set up to be dementia-friendly. A truly integrated NHS and social care system should consider this.

I also think that the UK, which is one of the leading nations in the world on biotech and drug treatments, should be investing more in research to bring forward medicines which can halt and even reverse dementia, or prevent dementia from occurring in the first place.

Britain has led the world on treatments to cure a wide range of diseases – we should be ambitious to do the same in the 21st century for dementia.

As I said, dementia is forecast to increase, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Faster diagnosis, improvement to planned services and a concerted effort to bring forward drugs and treatments to tackle dementia should be prioritised to ensure we improve the lives of everyone with dementia and their carers.