Leader: Early support must follow diagnosis of dementia

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Diagnosis of dementia is far from an exact science, and symptoms can present long before the condition is confirmed.

Today we report on the concerns of clinician Dr Peter Gordon who believes diagnoses were made too early, which has had consequences for the overall level of support available. This argument should not be taken lightly, because dementia is expected to represent the greatest challenge to our health services in the future.

But as the Scottish Government points out, early diagnosis is crucial in the effective treatment of dementia. There is no cure, but without sufficient support, problems can multiply quickly. It is also important to support spouses/partners, and families, who find that their lives have been changed dramatically by the need to care for a person who, before long, can become an entirely different person. Dealing with that emotional turmoil while trying to identify a pathway through the maze of social services and at the same time taking on a significant administrative burden, is a daunting prospect. Some fail, and are left in despair.

The Scottish Government took a big step towards addressing this scenario with the introduction of post diagnostic support (PDS), which offers a guarantee of a minimum of one year’s support after diagnosis. Of course, anyone diagnosed with dementia will have on-going support needs beyond that one year, but the initial support should be invaluable help to prepare for the uncertain times that lie ahead.

And it is here where we have greater cause for concern, beyond arguments over whether a person has dementia or is instead “likely” to develop dementia. Figures show that the number of people referred to PDS falls well short of those diagnosed with dementia. Dr Gordon says the level of resource available cannot match the diagnoses that were made.

Scotland’s support approach to dementia is described as “world leading”, but if available resource cannot deliver the commitment, it remains a vision rather than an effective strategy.