Leader comment: Dementia care should not discriminate

Former Dundee United footballer Frank Kopel was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 59. His wife Amanda, right, has campaigned for free care for all dementia patients.
Former Dundee United footballer Frank Kopel was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 59. His wife Amanda, right, has campaigned for free care for all dementia patients.
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Dementia wears many faces. There is the elderly woman in the early stages who starts to forget things, or the older man in the latter stages who thinks he is living in another time.

They need our help and our respect to cope with the devastating condition.

But there is also the middle-aged footballer who became unable to walk, or the young woman, or the teenage boy.

New analysis has revealed that more people under 65 are being diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease than ever, reigniting the debate over whether the NHS should offer personal care to under 65s.

Currently, people with conditions such as Parkinson’s, Motor Neurone Disease and dementia are offered free personal care and nursing on the NHS after the age of 65 while anyone younger must fund the care themselves.

Analysis of official figures by the Scottish Conservatives shows that the number of under-65s in Scotland being treated for dementia has risen by a third in the past six years.

Some patients were aged between 15 and 29, while a sizeable number fell just short of their 65th birthday.

These statistics are a timely reminder that people should not be denied support because they do not fit the mould.

Dundee United footballer Frank Kopel was only 59 years old when he was diagnosed with dementia, setting him outside the boundaries for free personal and nursing care offered to those over 65.

His widow Amanda has fought for an end to this ‘discriminatory’ practice with dignity and determination since she launched the Frank’s Law campaign in 2013.

Of course, the NHS always has to have boundaries on what it can and cannot offer to ensure it can deliver the best service for everyone.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that dementia is going to be one of the major health issues of our time.

Campaigners believe that it is the biggest health and social care challenge facing Scotland, with 90,000 Scots living with dementia and numbers due to rise by 20,000 patients each year by 2020.

Scientists are constantly finding new ways to understand it but as things stand, it is still mysterious in its origin and its treatment.

Dementia is not going to go away and there is no meaningful treatment on the horizon, let alone a cure.

So we must be bold in dealing with the things that can be changed, such as better social care, better awareness and better support in hospitals and the community.

The number of under-65s with the condition has soared but the numbers are still in the hundreds rather than the hundreds of thousands.

Providing vulnerable people and their families with much-needed help will take up a fraction of the NHS budget and it could transform lives.

If someone has dementia, then they have dementia. It doesn’t matter how old they are.

The disease does not discriminate and neither should the NHS.