Brian Sloan: People with dementia need our help and support

Raising awareness of the condition will give a boost to petients and their families and carers says Brian Sloan

Many people fear being diagosed with Alzheimers but charities are keen to tackle myths and stigma around dementia. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the past few weeks, dementia has been in the forefront of public discussion, with programmes like Angela Rippon’s The Truth About Dementia highlighting its impact not only on our society but on individuals and families.

We also recently marked Dementia Awareness Week in Scotland and this offered a fresh opportunity to highlight the need to do even more to make our communities dementia friendly and dementia aware.

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Throughout the week, Age Scotland joined with Alzheimer Scotland and other organisations working for better support for people with dementia to promote the need for better support and early diagnosis. This is a key concern for Age Scotland through the work of our Early Stage Dementia Project, supported by the Life Changes Trust.

Early diagnosis for someone with dementia can make a huge difference to their ability to live well with the condition.

The Scottish Government has made dementia a national priority, and as part of this has introduced a commitment to provide one year’s support for everybody who has been diagnosed with dementia for a year after their diagnosis. This support is provided by link workers who help people with dementia understand the illness, manage symptoms, maintain their connections with their local community and help them make plans for their future.

A dementia diagnosis is life-changing. It has a huge impact on those with the illness and their families. But people can and do live well with dementia, and support in the early stages is crucial to ensuring this can happen. Plans can be made for future care, support networks put in place and adaptations made to homes to allow people to be independent for longer.

That is why Age Scotland has established the Early Stage Dementia Project, to make our charity dementia friendly and raise awareness of the signs and symptoms with our 1,000 member groups and in the community more widely.

However, while there is a huge amount of work going on to raise dementia awareness and tackle stigma around the illness, there is still a huge amount to do. Depending on the measure used, either a third or a half of people who have dementia in Scotland have not yet received a diagnosis. While there are a number of reasons for this, the challenges in encouraging people to seek a diagnosis were made clear in the results of a survey recently conducted for the Alzheimer Society. It found that more than half of people seeking a diagnosis for dementia have delayed going to their GP by at least a year and nearly two-thirds of people fear a diagnosis would mean that their life is over.

One in five feared losing their partner or friends if they were diagnosed with dementia and almost half worried people would think they were “mad” if faced with a diagnosis. With fears like this commonplace it is no wonder people are reluctant to seek a diagnosis.

That is why it is so important to tackle myths and stigma around dementia and make more people aware of the benefits of early diagnosis.

At Age Scotland we meet people with dementia who are still contributing to their communities and are the leading voices campaigning for improved dementia services. Their example shows that if people take early action if they are worried about their memory or struggling with other activities, they can still have a rewarding life even if they do receive a dementia diagnosis.

Dementia Awareness Week was a great opportunity to highlight this message, and it is vital the work to make all our communities dementia friendly and dementia aware, all year round.

• Brian Sloan, Age Scotland Chief Executive