The number of elderly people living with dementia in the UK has reached record levels, according to figures released by the NHS. There were 453,881 over-65s with the neurodegenerative disease counted in May, representing an increase of more than 17,000 on the same month last year.
While it’s undoubtedly true that more people are getting dementia, the higher rates can also be put down to improved methods of diagnosing the condition. Those with the disease are also living longer, pushing the numbers up.
The latest figures highlight the importance of tackling this “health crisis”, as there is currently no cure. At present, early diagnosis can lead to treatment to try and prevent dementia from getting steadily worse at the same rate, but scientists are looking for a better solution.
It accounts for one in every seven deaths throughout England and Wales, making it among the biggest killers of the nation’s population. Dementia causes a wide range of symptoms in sufferers, with many families seeing the personalities of their loved ones change as it progresses.
Helen Davies, head of public affairs at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told the Mail Online: “The rising number of dementia diagnoses demonstrates that dementia, already the leading cause of death, is not a health crisis that will go away on its own.
“We must revolutionise the way we diagnose and treat the diseases that cause dementia to better equip the NHS to improve people’s lives. We know that future dementia treatments will bring significant improvements to quality of life but will also have a major impact on our health system.”
It’s estimated that dementia care costs the NHS approximately £26 billion a year. Devon was revealed to have the most over-65s living with dementia, totalling 11,236. The county was followed by Derbyshire with 9,446, Birmingham and Solihull at 8,550, Dorset having 8,340 and Bristol, North East Somerset and Gloucestershire, where 7,477 elderly people have the disease.
At the other end of the spectrum, Bradford City has the fewest cases of older people with dementia, standing at 493. It beat Devon by just 11 people at the bottom of the table. Predictions for the future, however, suggest there will be one million sufferers in the UK by 2025 and two million by 2051.
Alistair Burns, director for dementia in the NHS, said: “Spotting dementia in a timely way means people get the care they need, when they need it, so it’s good news that more people are having their condition identified and their treatment delivered.
“As the population ages, the NHS is having to run to keep up as dementia becomes a challenge for more and more families, which is why the NHS Long Term Plan sets out a blueprint for older people’s care and makes early diagnosis and treatment for major health problems a top priority.”
If you are concerned that an elderly relative may have dementia, it’s important to encourage them to see a GP. An early diagnosis can not only help to slow the progression of the disease, but support your loved one to access the services and support they need to live their life to the full.