As a country, we’ve become increasingly aware of the impact of dementia on society in recent years.
There are roughly 850,000 people diagnosed as having dementia currently living in England and Wales and that number is set to reach more than one million within the next five years.
The condition accounts for more than one-tenth of all deaths and is already the leading cause of death for women.
However, even set against that worrying background, there are some figures which still have the capacity to shock.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released data showing that a spike in deaths among the elderly is the principal reason for the largest increase in deaths in almost four decades.
Furthermore, last year’s increase of just over 28,000 on mortality rates for 2014 was principally due to the impact of dementia and ‘flu-related deaths among the over-75s.
In itself, it is a saddening development.
It arguably becomes more alarming when you think about the infrastructure available to cope with the scale of dementia and – perhaps more particularly – the challenges facing those who are trying to deal with it.
Five years ago, one estimate suggested that the UK would face a shortage of 100,000 places in care homes by 2020.
Since then, there has been significant investment and development in the care sector right across the UK. My colleagues and I have been involved in a considerable spread of such projects.
Even so, the prospect of far more elderly dementia sufferers still represents a huge issue and one which cannot necessarily be solved overnight.
The burden of doing so does not solely rest with the Government, which last March launched a five-year plan of action to tackle the potential problems which dementia poses. With all due respect to David Cameron, his target of making England “the best country in the world for dementia care and support” by 2020 seems a tad ambitious.
Medical research is not the only obstacle to be overcome. There are important issues of provision – whereabouts in the country will there be care homes, how much will they cost and who pays for them – to be resolved.
There may well already be homes but are they capable of accommodating those men and women with more specialist needs due to their having dementia? It is one thing to have more care beds but are they in facilities which are fit for purpose and can be adapted to look after a growing number of dementia sufferers?
Residential homes, of course, have to be paid for, both in terms of their construction and the type of care which they provide. It is reasonable, therefore, to understand why certain developers want to based in areas of the country which might in the future have people able to pay for the services which they can offer.
Local authorities, which have to pick up all or some of the cost of care, also have finite budgets and many priorities all pressing for a share of their cash.
Confronted by those many and varied facets of the problem, my experience tells me that what is needed is - for want of a better phrase - properly ‘joined-up thinking’.
It requires Government, planning authorities and developers to work together on things such as a relaxation of regulations, which can often prove an impediment to care projects getting off the ground.
A planning process which can cost companies wanting to build the sort of facilities that the rising dementia toll so urgently demands several hundred thousand pounds is certainly not an incentive to development.
This kind of collaboration is even more of an imperative. The numbers of dementia sufferers and deaths climbs higher every year.
We need to ensure that we don’t merely have enough care provision to manage now but put in place sufficient capacity to exceed even the worst estimates and give the elderly the dignity and certainty which they deserve.
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