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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 11:45 GMT
Paying for dementia
Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Editor, Politics Show South

Elderly person
One-in-three over-65s will die from dementia

There are currently half a million dementia sufferers in the UK. That figure is set to rise by 30% in the next 15 years.

But are we spending enough on both medication and social care for dementia sufferers?

The Public Accounts Committee says we are not spending enough. Their report, published in January 2008, says dementia should become an urgent priority after years of neglect.

It is, they say, comparable to cancer in the 1950's. It is seen as untreatable, and instils fear and confusion.

The committee wants to see a dementia Tsar appointed to help give the condition the same importance as cancer and coronary heart disease.

There is certainly ignorance, even amongst people you might think would know better.

A National Audit Office survey of GPs showed that just 31% had received training to diagnose and manage dementia.

Getting a diagnosis is often the first - and hardest - in a long line of hurdles that dementia sufferers and their relatives have to get across.

The symptoms of early stage dementia are often similar to symptoms of other illnesses, and as dementia sufferers frequently have good days and bad days, it can be unpredictable as to just how bad they are when they see their GP.

All of which can lead to great frustration on the part of their carers.

Diana's story

Diana Barnes was 55-years-old when she started having problems remembering numbers.

Balancing the chequebook became confusing for her as did more everyday tasks like working out how many potatoes she would need to cook for dinner.

Her husband, Harry, made a list of all the things she was having trouble doing.

The list got longer and longer... so after a year, Diana and Harry went to their GP.

She was given CT scans and made to sit psychometric tests before being told that Diana's symptoms "could" be suggestive of Alzheimer's, but to go and enjoy life anyway!

It took a full two years before Diana got a definite diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

The news sent Diana into a spiral of depression.

She felt like it was the end of the world and that she no longer wanted to live.

As husband Harry says: "You don't just suddenly have Alzheimer's. Ever since we had the diagnosis, Diana's been 100% aware of what the diagnosis meant and what's been happening to her."

Diana was put on a drug called Aricept and the result she says was like a fog lifting in her head.

However, subsequently, in November 2006, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) ruled that Aricept, along with two other anti-dementia drugs, did not make enough difference to be cost-effective in anything less than moderate Alzheimer's sufferers.

Diana thinks it is unfair to limit these drugs: "It's awful to say you've got to get worse before you're treated."

What do you think? Is the government ignoring the issue?

Should it be so difficult to get a diagnosis and then treatment?

Send us an email and join the debate.

And join Peter Henley live at the Patey Day Care Centre in Portsmouth on Sunday 03 February from 12.00 noon on BBC One.

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Dementia 'must be key priority'
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