Leader: State must pay for care of young dementia sufferers

Jock Stein and Billy McNeill celebrate winning the Scottish Cup in 1974
Jock Stein and Billy McNeill celebrate winning the Scottish Cup in 1974
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Footballers suffering from dementia is an issue that is at long last being taken seriously, first of all because of recent research which suggests a link between repeated heading of the ball and the onset of dementia in later life, and secondly because of the latest high profile case of a former player being diagnosed with dementia – Billy McNeill, captain of the Lisbon Lions.

This is not to be confused with “Frank’s Law”, named after Dundee United footballer Frank Kopel, who suffered dementia and died three years ago. But in Kopel’s case, the issue was not that he was a footballer; it was that he was diagnosed at the age of 59, and as a result was not eligible for the free personal and nursing care available to those aged 65 and over.

Kopel’s widow, Amanda, addressed the Conservative conference yesterday to raise the plight of those with dementia who receive no support, and the Tories’ mental health spokesman Miles Briggs is behind a members’ bill to extend treatment to all sufferers below the age of 65. Encouragingly, there appears to be majority support for this measure in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Government is examining the extension of care to those under 65, but any discussion should only be about how this is going to be paid for and rolled out. There should be no prevarication over the principle.

The more we learn about dementia, as its incidence increases, the less surprised we should be to find that it does not just come with old age. This debilitating disease can hit people in their 50s and even their 40s. It takes no account of age, and for support to be dependent on age makes no sense. Dementia robs an individual of the ability to earn an income, and without the support on offer to others, it can lead to financial ruin.

Having said that, those with dementia under the age of 65 represent a small minority of the overall figure. But that is another reason to extend support to all. The financial implications for the public purse will not be excessive. Frank’s Law deserves full support.