Quite a few years ago I did a stint as a charity fundraiser (yes I was a Chugger for a short while) and during that time I was raising funds for a dementia charity. It was during that period I had one of the most memorable yet heart wrenching conversations that has stayed with me until this day.
On the streets of Sittingbourne in Kent I met a man who told me about his father who had dementia. His father lived with him and his family but had been deteriorating rapidly and the man was faced with the decision of whether or not to ‘put’ his father into care.
It was obvious that on health grounds the decision was logical but it was clear that the man felt a sense of failure about not being able to look after his father and the option of sending him to a home was an option of last resort that was accompanied by a huge sense of guilt and the pressure of having that decision was tearing the man apart.
On a more personal level my own Grandfather developed dementia, my uncle cared for him but had to work to and it was when he returned from work one day to find my Grandad had tried to microwave some food in metallic dishes that managed to blow the microwave, but luckily not cause a wider fire, that the family seriously had to consider whether a care home might be the most appropriate option.
Dementia is a disease that affects the individual but one that also has a serious impact on the families of sufferers and with the predicted rise in numbers of people with dementia even more families will feel the impact of having to make such decisions along with the feelings of guilt and failure.
The news of increased funding into the research dementia is welcome there it cannot simply be research on treatments and cures. Whilst the application of medical research is the best approach in the long term cures and treatments can often take decades to come to fruition. In the meantime we need to tackle the social impact of the disease, provide more help and guidance to families and raise public awareness of all the issues on which dementia impacts.
It would be good to see greater research on how we can improve social care to meet the needs of those with dementia. There is, currently, a lot of good work going on in this area and we need to make certain that this reaches a wider number of care providers and becomes a standard for dementia care.
Today’s announcement is a starting point, one that will hopefully be extended in the social care White Paper due shortly. The amount promised for research stills pales compared with research spending on other issues yet it is a start in recognising such an important issue. But we also need funding to support the care of people with dementia and funding for support services for the families who have to come to terms with the impact of dementia on their lives.