Dealing with dementia - a part of everyone's future - Business Works

Dealing with dementia – a part of everyone’s future

Neil Hunt, Chief Executive, Alzheimer’s Society
Dementia is not a natural part of the ageing process. Neil Hunt discusses ways you can reduce your risk and help others.

What is dementia?

In recent years dementia has received increased media attention and has been pushed up the political agenda. In spite of this, dementia is not a condition that everyone feels comfortable talking about, perhaps due to the stigma that is associated with it. There is still widespread confusion and a lack of understanding and, even now, many people still view this condition as an inevitable part of getting older.

The truth is, dementia is not a natural part of ageing; it is caused by diseases of the brain and gradually robs people of their lives. There are over 100 different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and best known. Initial symptoms may be loss of memory, difficulty with speech or confusion. The condition will then develop at different rates for different people and a person can live with dementia for over ten years. Ultimately though, a person with dementia will gradually lose brain function until they require 24 hour care – including help eating, dressing and going to the toilet.

Reducing your risk

Healthy lifestyle
Whilst age is the biggest risk factor, people can develop dementia in their fifties, forties or when they are even younger in a few rare cases. Dementia does not discriminate and it affects people from all walks of life. The good news is that there are steps all of us can take to help reduce our risk of developing dementia. A general rule worth remembering is what’s good for the heart is good for the head. So the measures you’d take to protect your heart, such as sticking to a healthy diet, could also help you reduce your risk of dementia. In fact the Alzheimer’s Society’s top tips for reducing dementia are:

  1. Eat healthily - eat lots of fruit and vegetables and try to limit the number of high-fat, sugary and salty foods you eat;
  2. Get active - try to exercise for 30 minutes at least five times a week;
  3. Watch your blood pressure and cholesterol - ask your GP to check your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly - a healthy diet and regular exercise can help keep you within healthy limits;
  4. Keep a healthy weight - nearly a quarter of all adults in the UK are obese. Obesity is linked to the development of dementia so it's important to keep in shape;
  5. Don’t smoke - smoking has an extremely harmful effect on the heart, lungs and blood system (including the blood system in the brain).

A growing concern

Growing concern
Currently, one in three people over the age of 65 will die with dementia and there are 700,000 people in the UK with the condition, not to mention the thousands more affected through a close friend or relative. Worryingly, these figures are set to soar in the future and it is estimated that a million people will develop dementia in the next ten years. A frightening thought if we consider that current dementia care is inadequate and often very expensive.

Dementia costs the UK over £17 billion per year - over a third of which is due to informal care inputs by family members and other unpaid carers. Included in this amount is the estimated £690 million in lost income for those carers who have to give up employment or cut back their work hours. This lost employment means a loss of £123 million in taxes paid to the Exchequer.

Estimates suggest that by 2017 dementia could cost the UK as much as £27 billion. We need to ensure that the money that is spent on dementia is used efficiently and that we see improvements in care and genuine benefit for people with dementia.

What can the Alzheimer’s Society do to help?

The right care and support services can really help make a difference to the lives of people with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society is dedicated to providing information and support and improving quality of life for people with dementia and their carers. In the early stages of the condition, it is possible to lead an active and fulfilling life and spending time with others is a key part of this. The Alzheimer’s Society runs a range of support services to ensure that people with dementia do not feel isolated, giving them an opportunity to mix with others who are going through similar experiences. Dementia cafes, lunch clubs and singing groups, all provide a chance to catch up in an accepting and social environment.

These services are also of enormous value for carers who can share any concerns and worries with fellow carers. There are also a range of carers’ groups and services, offering an opportunity for some respite from what can be a demanding and exhausting role.

The money raised by our many supporters means we are able to continue to offer this support. Raising just £12 means that the Alzheimer’s Society can answer and follow up a call to the helpline, giving a carer the information they need to cope with dementia. It’s not just about help for today though, it’s about creating hope for the future. There is currently no cure for dementia and research is desperately underfunded. In fact, the government invests eight times less in dementia research than in cancer research.

The Alzheimer’s Society currently invests over £6 million in dementia research. This money is spent on a research programme that looks to improve the knowledge we have about dementia and its treatment - and pursue the ultimate goal of finding a cure.

High profile support

We are fortunate to have a number of high-profile supporters from the fields of business, politics and the arts. Having support from respected figures not only helps build our profile and get dementia firmly on the agenda, but also means we are able to reach broader audiences and raise awareness about this devastating condition.

Former Home Secretary, David Blunkett MP, became Vice-President of the Society earlier this year and, more recently, newsreader Angela Rippon and leading businessman, John Hughes became Alzheimer’s Society Ambassadors. John has more than 30 years of global business experience and is currently Chairman of Intec Telecom plc, Spectris plc and Telecity Group plc, all three FTSE listed companies.

‘The Alzheimer’s Society works tirelessly to improve the quality of life for both those living with dementia and their families and carers’ explains John. ‘Having seen at close quarters the profound impact of dementia on both sufferers and their families, I am honoured to become an Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador. I will bring my business experience and relationships to bear to help the Society in raising substantial additional sums to support their research goals, as well as their caring and support activities. I hope that in this way, and by speaking out on behalf of the Society, I can make a difference.’

How can I get involved?

You can support the Alzheimer’s Society in any number of ways. Many individuals take on challenges such as treks or marathons, getting colleagues to sponsor them. Others get their office involved in one of Alzheimer’s Society’s big fundraising events, such as a Memory Walk, hundreds of which takes place across the country in September every year.

We also have big corporate supporters like KPMG, Orange and easyJet who have chosen to support us across their offices and raise thousands for people with dementia and their carers. It’s not just about the money though; lots of people have chosen to volunteer their time or expertise to help us fight dementia.

If you are interested in finding out more, why not visit our website today and take a look at some of the many ways you can get involved. Whether you’ve been personally affected by dementia through a family member or you just want to help the thousands of people living with this corrosive condition, we can promise your help will be gratefully received and put to good use.

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