The recurring theme of Dementia Awareness Week, which runs this year from 17 to 23 May, is to encourage everyone to 'Remember the Person’ as someone in an advanced stage of dementia may not be able to communicate and express themselves. By raising awareness of the condition, it is hoped that more people will be diagnosed earlier and those with the condition can live a better quality of life. Throughout the week there will be national and regional press coverage, awareness-raising and fundraising events across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a national advertising campaign.

There are about 800,000 people in the UK with dementia and it is estimated that around 400,000 people have dementia without knowing it. Dementia is not a natural part of the ageing process but is the name for a collection of symptoms that include memory loss, mood changes and problems with communication and reasoning. The Alzheimer’s Society, a UK charity which provides support and research for those affected by dementia, explains that the symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss - problems with short term memory is often the first sign of dementia.
  • Communication problems - linked to memory loss, communication problems often arise when a person is unable to recall a particular word or phrase in conversation.
  • Changes in mood - dementia symptoms can have a profound effect on a person's life and can give rise to mixed emotions (sadness, anxiety, anger).

The campaign also seeks to dispel certain misconceptions about dementia. These symptoms are brought about by a number of diseases that cause changes in the brain. The most common of these is Alzheimer's disease, which changes the chemistry and structure of the brain causing the brain cells to die.

A diagnosis of dementia is often devastating to the person concerned. The symptoms of dementia are progressive and on an unknown timescale. However, many people with dementia can live full lives with little or no assistance. Every year we understand more about dementia and develop new strategies that can help to boost someone's confidence and maintain their independence for as long as possible.

Commenting on Dementia Awareness Week 2015, Lucie Prothero, senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “It is widely reported that the UK population is ageing and dementia is on the rise. This  means that more and more of us will be touched by the condition, either personally or with close family members.

“The “Getting Ready for Ageing” manifesto recently launched by the Ready for Ageing Alliance, which aims to get policymakers to engage more seriously with the significance of the ageing population, warned that the UK’s demography is changing significantly. By 2030 there will be 10% more people aged 85 and over in England and 51% more aged 65 and over compared to 2010. The current estimated figure of approximately 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK is set to rise to over one million by 2051.

“The 2013 G8 summit on dementia reported that the number of global dementia sufferers is expected to treble to 135 million by 2050. The summit recognised dementia as one of the world’s most pressing medical and social problems that is estimated to become the biggest burden on health-care systems.

“Despite the widely-reported data that the population is ageing, we have seen health and social care funding being squeezed in recent years to the extent that vulnerable older people are being put at risk. For instance, an enquiry last year by Healthwatch England, an independent consumer champion for health and social care in England, found that dementia sufferers were being sent from hospital to homes without heating or food. Healthwatch England said that tens of thousands of incidents, such as serious falls, could be avoided if more care and attention was paid to the safe discharge of patients and ensuring suitable care is in place.

“We deal with many enquiries from relatives of older patients and their families, who are concerned about poor standards of health and social care, both in hospital and in the community. We often see problems arising in the hospital or care home setting from poor management of dementia patients, who may become agitated, frightened and confused within that environment. If these patients are not properly cared for, it can result in poor outcomes such as serious falls or pressure sores caused by failings in basic care.

“Taking care of today’s dementia sufferers must remain a health and social care priority. Given the large number of us who will be affected by dementia, is it vital that dementia is placed high on the social and political agenda.”