This week sees the launch of a new campaign by Public Health England and the Alzheimer's Society to get every one of us on board to tackle one of the biggest issues facing the UK today. Celebrities, including Sir Paul McCartney, Lily Allen, Fiona Phillips and Alesha Dixon, have been flocking to add their support, some of them taking part in an advert designed to encourage at least a million of us to become Dementia Friends. All you have to do is to visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk, watch a short video, sign up and receive a free Dementia Friends pack, with ideas and tips on helping people with dementia. It doesn't need special training or giving up large chunks of your time - it's just about understanding more about dementia and how small changes on your part can make all the difference to the 800,000 people in the UK with dementia. The Alzheimer's Society is also running face-to-face awareness sessions across the country.
Dementia can be devastating for sufferers. The most common kind, Alzheimer's, can't be prevented, although medicines are now available to slow down progression of memory loss and ease other symptoms.
The second most common form of dementia is vascular dementia, and you can reduce your risk of this using the same healthy lifestyle changes that will protect you against heart attack and stroke. In fact, signing up to MyHealth could be the first step to protecting yourself against a whole heap of problems in later life. We may not all be triple jumping our way to medals on the athletics track at the age of 95, like the remarkable Olga Kotelko. But with life expectancy increasing by at least two years every decade in the UK, we can expect to live much longer than our parents, and we need to take action early in life to increase the chance that our ever longer lives are healthy ones.
Of course, dementia never affects just one person. It can have a huge impact on sufferers' families, with 50,000 carers in the UK having to quit their jobs in 2014 because of their responsibilities, and another 66,000 needing to make adjustments at work. On average, carers spend 28 hours a week looking after someone with dementia, and over half of these are trying to juggle a job with their caring commitments.
The bad news is that the estimated cost in hard money to British businesses is estimated at £1.6 billion a year. The good news is these businesses seem willing to play their part, too. In a survey linked to the launch, 87% of businesses said they have or would consider letting employees who were carers work flexibly; more than half would consider support such as extended leave, counselling or working from different locations; and almost one in five would consider paying for respite care.
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