Alzheimer’s surge adds to burden on NHS of ageing population

A surge in people with Alzheimer's is adding to the burden on the NHS. Picture: Cate Gillon/Getty Images
A surge in people with Alzheimer's is adding to the burden on the NHS. Picture: Cate Gillon/Getty Images
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The number of deaths in Scotland from Alzheimer’s disease have risen by a third in the last year, as campaigners warn the “alarming” increase is placing a “heavy strain” on the NHS and care services.

A total of 570 deaths from the disease were recorded in the period March to June 2017, according to new data from the National Records of Scotland.

This marks a rise of 33.4 per cent on the same period last year and more than double the 257 deaths that occurred in the same three months in 2014. A further 936 deaths in Scotland were a result of dementia, the figures showed, up 16.9 per cent over the year – although this was said in part to be due to changes in the cause of death coding software.

Dr Matthew Norton, director of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Alarming as this report is, we cannot hide away from the reality these statistics represent: the devastating impact of dementia across Scotland.

“Part of the increase has been driven by changes in the way death records are represented in official statistics, but this does not fully account for the size of the increase and we must face up to the fact that dementia is set to become the UK’s biggest killer as our population ages.”

He added: “While age is the biggest risk factor for the condition, dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing – we can defeat it. The only way to stop dementia from being a death sentence in future is through the power of research.”

Meanwhile deaths from coronary heart disease fell by 5.3 per cent to 1,590 in the second quarter of 2017, and there was a slight fall in cancer deaths, down 0.8 per cent to 3,831. The latest NRS quarterly report on births, deaths and marriages revealed deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease now account for around 10 per cent of all deaths compared to five per cent a decade ago.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs called on ministers to set out what they are doing to tackle the increasing number of Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths.

The Tory MSP said: “It seems that gradually the high-profile killers are being reduced, and that is to be absolutely welcomed. But they are being replaced by cruel and challenging conditions like Alzheimer’s. The SNP has had a decade in charge of health and social care to prepare for this, and we need to start seeing signs that this government has a plan.”

The latest figures come as the first minister pledged to implement Frank’s Law as the Scottish Parliament returned last week. The new legislation is named after former Dundee United footballer Frank Kopel who was diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s in 2008, aged 59. His family had to pay about £300 a week on personal care towards the end of his life.

Personal health care is free for over-65s who are assessed by their local authority as needing it, but those under 65 are required to pay. The new legislation will extend free personal care to under-65s with degenerative conditions.

Mental health minister Maureen Watt said: ““Our National Dementia Strategy sets out actions to transform services and improve outcomes.”