Mental health updates - dementia

Last week, at the G8 dementia  summit conference in London,  the world's leading health ministers met to discuss the ever increasing problem of Dementia. Here in the UK the subject of Dementia has attracted news coverage both before and since the summit.

Before taking an over view of what's been said at the summit  lets  get clear about what Dementia is. Dementia is an umbrella term used to refer to a collection of symptoms that arise out of different diseases of the brain. There are different types of Dementia but all tend to cause problems with -
  • Memory
  • Language skills
  • Information processing
  • Mental agility
  • Understanding and judgement
Dementia can also trigger other mental health problems such as -

  • Personality changes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings. 
The disease is degenerative and there is no effective treatment to date. The condition can also be very disabling and is distressing to both the individual, their families and carers.

In addition here are some alarming global statistics - 
  • Currently some 44 million people  have Dementia globally and  numbers are set to treble to 135m by 2050
  • $600bn is spent  world wide on Dementia
  • By 2050 71% of sufferers will be either poor or from the middle income group
According to the Alzheimer's Society there are  - 
  • 800,000 people with Dementia in the UK
  • 17,000 in UK are under 65
So what have the politician's said?

At the G8 summit the UK government made a number of pledges -
  • To increase research funding  to £132m by 2025
  • To call on the World Health Organisation to recognise Dementia as an increasing world wide health problem and to help countries adapt
  • To introduce a dementia brain scan in England to be made available to certain NHS patients with more complex symptoms
  • To introduce a new "Dementia Consortium" which would unite Alzheimer's Research UK with 2 leading pharmaceutical companies and the Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • To develop a co-ordinated "international research action plan"
In addition the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have pledged £5m to improve diagnosis and disease monitoring.

Also, in the UK, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) plans to introduce unannounced site visits to residential homes to monitor and improve the care standards of people looked after in  institutions. Good news, yes,  but I  need convincing that this will be properly funded by the government.

Overall, the G8 summit has raised awareness and, as a result, Dementia is set to be firmly on  the political agenda for the next few years; which can only be a good thing. Lets hope that they deliver on their pledges.

On a final note, from my own perspective, I worry that the approach to prevention and treatment will be drug led. What I would like to see is an opening of the debate to include more government led research into the benefits of non medical approaches - like diet and exercise. What about the neurological impact of gluten sensitivity?  Is it possible -  as  it has been claimed by the neurologist Dr David Perlmutter - that Alzheimer's Disease/Dementia can be prevented by adopting a gluten free diet and exercise?

I've written previously about  the role of diet and exercise and good mental health. However, in view of what I've read more recently  about gluten sensitivity and health,  I plan to update this soon.

Lets hope that the London summit will trigger some innovative new approaches to Dementia prevention and treatment. A review is scheduled for May 2014. I for one will be following this closely. Watch this space.

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