Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are now the biggest cause of death in England and Wales after jumping by a fifth in a single year.
It is a scary word, dementia. Over 850,000 people in the UK are living with the condition, and that is projected to grow to over one million by 2025. It is an increasing concern and many of us have seen the impact it can have on our loved ones. In the past there has been a misconception about what dementia actually is.
It is not just about forgetting people’s names or leaving the oven on; it is a condition that completely changes a person’s life. It involves symptoms such as memory loss, difficulty with thinking clearly, problem solving, language and even physical movement. The first step in any battle like this is to develop understanding – and then turn that understanding into action.
Organisations like the Alzheimer’s Society do fantastic work by providing information, practical and emotional support, but also by investing in world-class research with the goal of defeating dementia. We have seen major breakthroughs in the battle against diseases like cancer and HIV in recent years, and there is no reason we shouldn’t hope for the same in the battle against dementia. It all starts with generating greater awareness and appreciation of the condition.
The Dementia Friends initiative, a social movement supported by the Alzheimer’s Society, is a brilliant concept. It really is as simple as it sounds. You can sign up to become a friend of people with dementia and their carers. It is all about learning what it means to live with dementia and then making a pledge to be supportive and considerate of these more vulnerable people.
So far, at Celesio UK, we have over 4,150 colleagues signed up to be Dementia Friends, and I have a vision of a completely dementia friendly workforce, with all colleagues on board. In our partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer Scotland over the past 18 months, I have been humbled by the way our colleagues have truly taken the charity to heart.
The condition affects so many people – if it hasn’t impacted your immediate family, it has probably impacted someone you know. That is why the cause resonates so powerfully within our business – particularly for our teams in pharmacies who care for many patients with dementia and their carers every day.
Women suffering from dementia in the UK receive worse medical treatment than men with the condition, new research by University College London suggests. The study, published in Age and Ageing, also found that only half of all people with dementia had a documented annual review even though GP surgeries are offered financial incentives to carry these out. Women were found to be at particular risk of staying on antipsychotic or sedative medication for longer.
The researchers suggest this might be because they have fewer appointments where their treatment can be reviewed. Despite being more vulnerable to physical and mental illness, the study also showed that patients with dementia received less medical care that those without.
Overall they had 10 per cent fewer consultations, were 9 per cent less likely to undergo checks for weight loss and were around onefifth more likely to be put on powerful drugs. “What is clear is that people with dementia need support to help them access the various health and care services they are entitled to,” says George McNamara, head of policy at the Alzheimer’s Society.
“For many people this will be in the form of a family carer. However, many are left by the Government to rely on charities or threadbare social care services.”
Community pharmacy has a crucial role to play as a support network for people affected by the condition. Many people living with dementia are elderly and also living with multiple conditions that require different medication. Managing these medicines can be confusing, especially for someone coping with memory loss. Pharmacists are by far the most accessible healthcare professionals around.
They are based in the middle of communities and are wellplaced to be able to offer the right advice and support for these patients – especially when it comes to safe medicine management. If people don’t take their medicines correctly, not only do they suffer from the effects of mismanaged conditions, it can result in costly admissions to hospital that put a further burden on our over-stretched NHS.
As part of the recent changes to community pharmacy funding, a Dementia Friends element has been introduced for 2017/18 as part of the quality payment scheme. Whatever our thoughts about the introduction of quality payments, the fact that patientfacing pharmacy staff will be encouraged to become Dementia Friends is a massive step forward and will have a direct impact on helping people to live well with dementia.
Pharmacies are a safe and supportive environment for people with dementia and their carers to get the assistance and advice they need to be able to lead more positive, healthy lives.
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