This article was taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/06/alzheimers-dementia-leading-cause-death-england-wales
By Amelia Hill, Guardian news
Experts call for urgent action to tackle ‘biggest health crisis of our time’
Dementia is the biggest health crisis of our time, experts have said, as statistics show the condition was the primary cause of death in England and Wales last year.
Almost one in eight people died from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in 2018, with the proportion increasing for the fourth consecutive year – up from 12.7% in 2017 to 12.8% in 2018. There were 541,589 deaths registered in England and Wales last year, the highest total since 1999.
With the numbers of people living with dementia in the UK expected to rise to 1 million by 2021, campaigners are urging the government to fulfil its pledges on adult social care, including publishing its long-awaited green paper.
In his first speech as prime minister, Boris Johnson vowed to solve the UK’s social care crisis “once and for all”, asserting that he would protect the elderly from the fear of having to sell their home to pay for the cost of care.
Sally Copley, the director of policy and campaigns at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “For four years now, we’ve seen deaths caused by dementia increase. We need to take action now to tackle the biggest health crisis of our time. One person develops dementia in the UK every three minutes and there are still far too many facing a future alone, without adequate support.
“There has never been a more urgent need for the government, the NHS, the research community and society to unite with us against this devastating condition. We need the government to prioritise dementia with a dedicated NHS dementia fund and invest in a plan for long-term social care reform.”
The increase in the numbers of those developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was a result of people living longer, surviving other illnesses and of the syndrome being better understood by doctors, said the Office for National Statistics (ONS) report published on Tuesday.
But with the number of people with dementia living alone expected to double by 2040, experts say people deserve to see the same life-changing breakthroughs that have benefitted other major disease areas, such as cancer, made in the treatment of dementia.
“Right now, we have no way to slow, stop or treat the diseases that cause dementia but with the right support, research can change this,” said Dr Alison Evans, the head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said.
“The UK government currently only invests 0.3% of the annual cost of dementia towards research and this is pitifully low. We’ve called on the government and our new prime minister to join countries around the world and commit to put the equivalent of just 1% of the cost of dementia towards research.”
Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said: “Older people living with long-term health conditions like dementia who need social care are suffering every day in huge numbers because they do not get the care they need.
“Over a million are living with unmet needs for care and many more are being turned down for care or simply cannot access any in their area. Most tragically of all, many have died waiting for their care to be put in place. This is simply unacceptable.”
The mortality rates were released on the same day the ONS published data that revealed vacancy rates in adult social care in the public sector were running at an 8% high, equating to 110,000 vacancies – among the highest rates across all public services.
The report warned that, with a growing ageing population pushing up demand for labour, vacancy rates in adult social care services could increase further.
Barbara Keeley, the shadow minister for social care and mental health, said: “These statistics show that dementia is set to be one of the biggest challenges for the health and social care system over the coming years, and the social care system just isn’t equipped to provide the level of care that people with dementia need.”
“A decade of Tory cuts to council budgets has seen £7.7bn less funding for social care and it’s often people with dementia and their families who are paying the price. It’s time for the government to come forward with proposals for much-needed reform of social care.
She said a Labour government would invest £8bn extra in social care, providing additional publicly funded care packages to ensure more people get the support they they needed.
Mortality rates from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are highest for women, accounting for 16.7% of all reported deaths, and rising to 23.6% for women over 80.
The leading cause of death for men continues to be ischaemic heart disease, but for men aged 80 and over, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is the biggest cause, at 15.1% of all reported deaths.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Dementia is a major health and care challenge and we’re working to improve care and support to make this the best country in the world to live with the condition.
“We have given local authorities access to nearly £4bn more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410m is available for adults and children’s services. The prime minister has been clear he is committed to fixing the social care system and will outline proposals as soon as possible.”