The toll on sufferers and carers is huge, and that's before we get to the financial cost - likely to be in the region of £23 billion in the UK this year and rising all the time. Alzheimer's is the most common, but not the only, form of dementia. About one in five people with dementia has vascular dementia - the cause may be different but the outcomes are the same.
The World Alzheimer Report reveals some unpalatable truths for all of us. Two in five people with dementia say they have been avoided or treated differently because of their diagnosis. Friends, it seems, are the worst culprits - 60% of people with dementia who had faced this sort of challenge found friends were the group most likely to avoid them after their diagnosis. Family members came a close second. Hardly surprising, then, that more than one in four people with dementia have taken steps to conceal their problem because of the stigma they see the diagnosis carries.
While dementia gets more common with age, it affects 17,000 younger people in the UK today too. The report also included under 65-year-olds, who felt a special sense of shame and exclusion in the workplace or at their children's schools.
But dementia affects far more than the person who's diagnosed - it has far-reaching impact on the whole family, but particularly on the 'primary carer', who is most commonly a spouse. Widows and widowers have a 'legitimate' status in society. Imagine instead trying to cope with what is, to all intents and purposes, the loss of your life partner, but being faced with the constant reminder of what you once had in the shape of your partner's physical presence staring, unrecognising, at you every day.
Add to that the physically and emotionally exhausting challenges of caring for that same person. They ask the same questions time and time again; wander off and get lost the moment you take your eyes off them; and may need you to provide for their most basic physical needs, like feeding and toileting. Feeling that you have been shunned by family and friends, as one in four carers of Alzheimer's patients do, may feel the final straw.
The recommendations of the report may be easier to list than to put into practice. Government is asked to take the lead, implementing national dementia plans. Education, information and awareness are high on their list of priorities to help reduce the stigma of dementia. People with dementia should be encouraged to speak out for themselves and society should treat them and their carers as equals and include them in everyday life. Does this apply to you? Oh, yes. The 670,000 family carers for dementia sufferers in the UK save us over £8 billion a year. If we don't look after them and those they care for, we will all pay the cost in more ways than one.
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