Last week, to mark Dementia Action Week, I met with the Alzheimer’s Society in Parliament. At the meeting I talked with people who had improved their quality of lives in managing their dementia, as well as discussing the importance of dementia diagnosis and practical changes in a home setting to support people to live with dementia independently.
While dementia statistically affects older people, with around 1 in 14 people over 65 and 1 in 6 people over 80 years old who may have some symptoms of dementia, it isn’t simply a natural part of ageing. In the UK over 42,000 people under 65 years old have early onset dementia. Across Kent, there are nearly 24,000 people living with dementia. By 2030 that is forecast to rise to over 33,000.
Ensuring that there is early medical diagnosis and support is vital. Dementia support is a Government priority and the Government has set a national target for dementia diagnosis of over 66%. However, currently in Dover and Deal NHS statistics analysed by the Alzheimer’s Society suggest that only 57% of people living with dementia have a medical diagnosis, significantly below the national target. Anyone concerned about dementia should speak to their GP first and then a specialist referral can be made where appropriate. It is important to get the right diagnosis, so that people living with dementia can have a greater opportunity to lead a higher quality life and also live independently for longer. Common symptoms associated with dementia can be from severe stress or other health conditions, so don’t delay seeking medical support.
In our area, we benefit from a £2.5 million investment in the ground-breaking Harmonia Dementia Village next to Dover’s Buckland Hospital. This was the first of its type in the entire country to be built. The Dementia village has specially designed houses with care available 24 hours a day by an on-site team, to ensure needs are met for residents in the village. Its opening was delayed by the pandemic, but it is an important additional healthcare facility for Dover and Deal for the longer term.
There are practical steps that can be taken to live better with dementia. These include ensuring doorways and steps are well-lit, keeping diaries, pill dispensers, food schedules and automatic shut-off devices to turn off cookers and other devices. Keeping people safe from scammers and fraudsters can also be important, for example using the telephone preference service to block unwanted calls. People looking after others with dementia can also access support and advice and may also be eligible for subsidised training and carers benefits.
The important aspect of dementia is that people can still live a fulfilling, long life with active steps taken to support them. I will continue to work hard to press for improvements in the speed of diagnosis so that more people with dementia are supported along with their hardworking and committed carers.