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Dementia understanding counts for everything in 2020

For the past three years, Legal & General have partnered on one of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s core awareness campaigns, the award-winning #ShareTheOrange. The campaign has variously played out on television, social media, cinema screens, and advertising billboards in some of the most prominent locations across the country. It is designed to move dementia from being one of the most-feared, but least understood conditions, to one for which fatalism can be overcome and personal agency and research support grown.

The two organisations were natural partners in these endeavours. Alzheimer’s Research UK, one of the world’s leading dementia research organisations, is focused on funding and creating an environment for medical research to deliver breakthroughs. Legal & General meanwhile is focused on helping its hundreds of thousands of customers to prepare for the challenges of later life, including an extensive investment programme supporting companies focused on healthy ageing.

Healthy ageing under threat

And dementia is one of the greatest threats to healthy ageing. It destroys dreams of a well-earned retirement, turns families upside down, and creates enormous emotional, practical and financial pressures. With approaching a million people now living with dementia in the UK, and countless more loved ones supporting the care of those people, a great many of us are experiencing the impact of dementia in our lives. Alzheimer’s Research UK research suggests 52% of us have someone close with the condition.

As a leading dementia research funder, Alzheimer’s Research UK is focused on driving research breakthroughs that bring hope to people with dementia. This research is directed towards the key areas of improving understanding of diseases process, earlier and more accurate diagnosis, improved treatment and improved approaches to prevention. The last of these areas in particular has been boosted by a major report this summer in The Lancet, with evidence pointing towards potentially 40% of cases of dementia being avoidable through positive risk behaviours that might be within our control.

Overcoming fatalism

How do we help people to take advantage of these public health opportunities? One of the biggest barriers to realising the potential of prevention is fatalism. People are unlikely to believe that preventative strategies can work if they feel that dementia is an unavoidable product of age. Similarly, such misconceptions present barriers to people supporting research. They present barriers to investment, and they prevent barriers of stigma for people with dementia themselves, written off as just the unlucky elderly.

Legal & General’s support of #ShareTheOrange goes to the heart of overcoming these barriers. The campaign reminds us that dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing, rather it is a condition driven by physical diseases of the brain. Diseases that we have real hope of altering, slowing, and one day stopping. And we’ll achieve this through research. Research that helps us understand how the way we live our lives affects our dementia risk. Research that helps detect changes in the brain earlier than ever before to help people access drugs when they bring most benefit. Research that delivers treatments to change people’s lives.

Breakthroughs have never mattered more

In 2020, these needs have been thrown into even starker relief. Sadly people with dementia have borne the brunt of COVID-19, with figures suggesting that more than a quarter of those dying in England and Wales have been people with the condition. We are also seeing dementia death rates outside of the virus at a far higher level than we would expect, with the implications of social distancing exacerbating symptoms and profoundly complicating care. Dementia is becoming a particularly tragic storyline in the ongoing narrative of COVID-19.

Hope for people with dementia rests in hands of our scientists and there has never been more at stake. Legal & General and Alzheimer’s Research UK’s partnerships in campaigning and public awareness work recognises that advances in public understanding both equips individuals with the knowledge they need to understand their own dementia risk, but also, simultaneously, builds the case for research. This World Alzheimer’s Day achieving these aims feels more important than ever.

About the author

Ian Wilson (CEO, Alzheimer’s Research UK) and
Nigel Wilson (Chief Executive, Legal & General Group)