The 8 things we want the Challenge on Dementia to focus on

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By Simon Aucott | Friday 18 May 2018

The Challenge on Dementia 2020 is a vital effort to bring together government, charities and other organisations to improve dementia care, build awareness, and strengthen dementia research. The Challenge laid out over 50 commitments in 2015 as part of an ongoing effort to improve the lives of people affected by dementia.

This year, the Challenge is under review to determine if we’re on track to achieve the goals it laid out, and what additional efforts are needed.

At Alzheimer’s Research UK, we’re feeding in to this review and have outlined to the government what support is needed to successfully meet the goals in the Challenge and what we hope to see beyond 2020.

  1. Improve awareness of dementia as part of brain health

We must work to shift the perception that dementia is a condition of later life to empower people to understand risk reduction and think about their brain health much earlier in life. By ensuring the public and medical professionals understand that the diseases that cause dementia can begin 15 to 20 years before symptoms appear and that people can take action to reduce their risk of dementia, we can begin to improve the overall understanding of the condition. We must also improve awareness of the importance of getting an early diagnosis, particularly among medical professionals who may be the first to document signs of dementia.

  1. Diagnose dementia sooner

Current research suggests that future dementia treatments will be most effective if they are given in the earliest stages of dementia. Because of this, diagnosing dementia early, possibly before symptoms begin to appear, will be vital in treating people with the condition at a stage when the benefits are likely to be greatest. Researchers are working to improve the way we diagnose dementia, and we believe the NHS should pilot specialist Brain Health Clinics to create an infrastructure that could incorporate developments in diagnostics and prepare for earlier diagnosis.

  1. Increase number of people involved in dementia research

The current goal to register 25% of people diagnosed each year for research studies through Join Dementia Research is ambitious one and we still have some way to go to hit the 2020 deadline. We must do more to provide people with dementia and their families with information about how they can participate in dementia research, and particularly to encourage people who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to consider taking part. This also means we must ensure medical professionals are pointing people toward Join Dementia Research and are aware of the importance of highlighting this opportunity to those they are supporting.

  1. Increase awareness among medical professionals

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals have a unique opportunity to help people understand how they can reduce their risk of dementia, to diagnose people living with dementia, and to provide information and support to people with dementia and their families. We must ensure medical professionals have the tools and training they need to perform at the highest level possible. This includes growing awareness of risk reduction information and the effort to include people with dementia in Join Dementia Research.

  1. Address affordability challenges future treatments could pose

We know that because of the sheer number of people living with dementia, a future treatment could pose significant challenges to the NHS in terms of the cost and resources needed to deliver treatments. That’s why Alzheimer’s Research UK is looking ahead at potential access and uptake issues to prepare the landscape for future treatments. We want to see the government, NHS and NICE join us in this effort by supporting our Dementia Access Taskforce.

  1. Ensure the UK offers a strong setting for research into brain diseases

Since the first Dementia Challenge was launched by David Cameron in 2012, we have seen significant progress in research investment, which along with government leadership has positioned the UK as a global leader in dementia research. However, we know there is more work still to do. We must continue to grow financial support for dementia research, setting a new goal for increasing government investment in research to at least £132m annually by 2022 and doubling the number of neurodegeneration researchers.

In addition, we must see the Brexit process protect research by ensuring researchers can gain experience internationally and bring their knowledge back to the UK. To remain at the forefront of dementia research and ensure it is a career of choice, it will be key that we can continue to attract the best researchers to this field.

  1. Reduce health inequalities

We must do more to reach BAME and diaspora communities, including raising awareness of risk reduction messaging, and promoting healthy activities, and offering information in multiple languages. Alzheimer’s Research UK is creating easy-to-understand information booklets in several languages, including Polish and Punjabi, to better reach these communities. This could also include building on the work of parkrun to proactively engage with disadvantaged and hard-to-reach communities and promote the benefits of physical and social activity.

  1. Track public understanding and stigma

We need a standardised measure of potential stigma and societal attitudes toward dementia to track the long-term view and understanding of the condition. Alzheimer’s Research UK is developing a long-term benchmark of attitudes that we hope to report through the Challenge on Dementia to track progress in these areas and help shape new initiatives to tackle misunderstanding and drive progress for everyone affected.

As a lead charity in several areas of the Challenge on Dementia 2020, we are committed to the success of this collaborative effort and will do our part to achieve these goals, not only for the next two years, but beyond 2020.

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About the author

Simon Aucott

Team: Campaigning