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With cases of dementia soaring, Sanctuary examines the search for a cure and the role social workers play in helping tackle the condition.

The goal is to find a cure for dementia.

More than £300 million has been pledged by the Government for UK research and medical innovation to support the country’s science and medical sectors to find a major breakthrough. With a pledge to establish an international dementia institute in England over the next five years to make the UK a world leader for research and medical trials, the aim is to discover new drugs and treatment that could slow down the onset of dementia or even deliver a cure by 2025. Yet new models of care and support – and patient involvement - will also be important elements too.

UK is well-placed for dementia research

Figures from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) show that over the last 12 months almost 22,000 people have come forward to take part in dementia research, a 60% increase. With 100 dementia research projects across the UK, public participation is giving scientists an advantage in finding new treatments to prevent, treat and eventually cure the illness. Those ongoing research projects include testing whether antibiotics slow cognitive decline, investigating the role of the immune system in dementia, identifying genetic risk factors and improving end of life care for people with dementia.

Join Dementia Research

The Join Dementia Research initiative - set up by the NIHR in partnership with Alzheimer Scotland, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society - is also making it easier for people to participate and already, more than 9,000 people have signed up.

However, Professor Simon Lovestone from Oxford University said recent trials for new drugs had failed, underlining the need for better clinical trials and to conduct them “earlier in the disease process.” And while dementia researchers have applauded the £300m as “a great investment”, cancer research still receives five times as much funding globally as dementia.

Care workers at the core of the dementia battle

With this commitment to investment, however, people remain at the core of the dementia battle. It is a condition that affects 850,000 people in the UK, with that number expected to rise to a million within a decade, and the numbers living with dementia worldwide is estimated at 44 million.

Social care workers are pivotal in looking after people with the condition and Prime Minister David Cameron has said that 100,000 social care staff will be better trained to support people with dementia.

New models of care

In addition to research, innovative new models of dementia care are being developed.
The Alzheimer’s Society’s Supporting Diagnosis project, working in partnership with NHS England and 28 CCGs, has highlighted what an organised, tailored approach can achieve.
This includes increased dementia awareness and post-diagnosis support, access to information for people who may be worried about their memory, and improved relationships between key stakeholders that lead to improved diagnosis rates, referral and uptake of support after diagnosis.

Central Lancashire’s pathway of post-diagnosis support services is highlighted as one such example of person-centred care, available as an integral part of local care for people with dementia.

Dementia friends

There are also plans to give three million more “Dementia Friends” training in how to support people who may have the condition, with free sessions in schools, church halls or work places.

Another aim is to have the majority of people in England living in “dementia-friendly communities” by 2020 by making shops, transport and other public places more accessible to people with the condition.

Rising to the challenge

The UK has set the pace in the fight against dementia: with the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia in 2012; hosting the first dedicated G8 event on dementia in 2013; introducing the first-ever World Dementia Envoy; spearheading a global approach to the fight against dementia; seeing diagnosis rates in the UK as the highest in the world, increased from 42% to 59% and on track to reach two thirds; and ensuring more people than ever before get the care and support they need.

The Prime Minister has described dementia as “one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime.”

It seems patients, health professionals, and social care workers are rising together to meet that challenge.

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