Dementia is the major challenge of our time for health and social care. It is impossible to ignore the global demographic imperative in terms both of numbers of people affected (rising from 46.8 million in 2015 to 74.7 million in 2030) and costs (approx £575 billion in 2015 – over 1% of global GDP)(1). The Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia (2012-2015 and 2015-2020) makes clear that increasing the quantity and quality of dementia research is a priority for the UK government. Mr Cameron’s aspiration is for our country to be “the best place in the world to undertake research into dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases”. The UK has taken a global lead in the ‘fight to defeat dementia’, through initiatives from the G7 countries, the EU Joint Programme on Neurodegeneration and the World Health Organisation. Nevertheless, although funding for dementia research has doubled, the total figure is still very low compared to other conditions such as cancer.
Dementia is the umbrella term for a number of conditions all resulting in a loss of abilities, relating to memory, orientation, reasoning, judgement and self-care. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type, followed by vascular dementia and Lewy Body dementia. Many people live with a dementia in their 40s and 50s, but the dementias are most common in later life, when a person may develop a mix of the various conditions.
Most attention is usually given to biomedical research in this field. Important though this is, dementia cannot be seen only through a biomedical lens. The human consequences for people living with a dementia and for those who provide care and support need to be a focus of study and action. This booklet provides striking examples of how social scientists in the UK are already making headway with this agenda. Dementia care across the world has been transformed by some of the advances in understanding and in care and treatment evidenced here.
For example, the near universal adoption of person-centred care has improved the lives of many people living with dementia worldwide. This stemmed from the work of social scientists at the University of Bradford, recognised in 2015 by a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. Indeed, the UK is a world leader in psychosocial interventions in dementia care and in taking action on the rights of people with dementia.
Researchers received a great boost through the 2012 Economic and Social Research Council/National Institute for Health Research dementia-themed call awarding £20 million to 6 major projects over a 5 year period, which will build further impact in due course, and from the newly developing Medical Research Council-led National Dementia Research Institute announced in November 2015. It is vital that funding for social science research on dementia increases. The work reflected here could then be the platform for even greater impact in years to come.
This issue has been made possible through the kind support provided by: