The prime minister has promised to double funding for dementia research, while the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, announced a screening programme to pick up the signs earlier, as campaigners warned of a crisis triggered by the increasing age of the population.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, which launched a report at a national conference in London on Monday, there are now 800,000 people with dementia in the UK and an estimated 670,000 family and friends spend a large part of their lives caring for them. Over the next year, the numbers with dementia are expected to rise to one million. The society estimates the current cost to the NHS at £23bn a year, rising to £27bn by 2018.
David Cameron said it was a scandal that more had not been done to tackle the disease. Launching a “national challenge on dementia”, the prime minister outlined plans to increase spending on research from £26.6m in 2010 to £66m by 2015.
“One of the greatest challenges of our time is what I’d call the quiet crisis, one that steals lives and tears at the hearts of families, but that relative to its impact is hardly acknowledged,” he said.
“Dementia is simply a terrible disease. And it is a scandal that we as a country haven’t kept pace with. The level of diagnosis, understanding and awareness of dementia is shockingly low. It is as though we’ve been in collective denial.”
Cameron said the costs associated with the disease are already higher than those for cancer, heart disease or stroke.
He said he wanted Britain “to be a world leader in dementia research and care” and the national challenge would look to ways of improving the treatment of people with dementia and support for them and their families.
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