PM urged to adopt dementia challenge

A leading palliative care physician has re-issued his call for the prime minister to adopt the UK’s Dementia Challenge to achieve major improvements in dementia care by 2015.

Speaking at the ‘Risky Business 2’ international dementia conference, Professor Rod MacLeod from the University of Sydney and HammondCare said education about dementia for healthcare professionals was more crucial than new research.

“Instead of simply putting lots of dollars into research about dementia, we should be putting those dollars into education,” said Professor MacLeod. “You can have a lot of research going on all over the shop but it’s not necessarily going to make a practical impact.”

Professor MacLeod told the conference that the overwhelming majority of people with dementia die in care homes or hospitals, while half of them experience pain and a third are agitated at the end of life.

“We are quite good at managing pain generally in palliative care and we are good at managing agitation and shortness of breath. “We have to ask ourselves why people with dementia are not getting access to this kind of support.”

British expert tells of UK shift

Professor MacLeod’s calls for a shift in government priorities came as a British expert told the conference that political support had led to significant improvements in diagnosing and caring for people with dementia in the United Kingdom.

Alistair Burns, professor in Old Age Psychiatry at the University of Manchester and England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia, said the prime minister’s dementia challenge in the UK had raised the profile of the disease significantly.

“The awareness of dementia in the UK is the highest that it has ever been and I think it’s fair to say that is something we will never go back on,” Professor Burns said. “People want to do the right thing about dementia.”

Professor Burns said that with significant by-in from British politicians, early identification of dementia had increased while the use of antipsychotic medications had reduced significantly.

The inclusion of questions about dementia and memory loss in the National Health Service (NHS) health check for people aged 40-74 had led to more people seeing specialists who diagnose dementia.

“At first people said, ‘You can’t mention dementia; you can’t mention memory in a standard health check. If you do people won’t come in to get their heart checked’.

“But we’ve seen a fourfold increase in the number of people referred to memory clinics in two years.”

Professor Burns also said a campaign to use antipsychotics as a “last resort” for people with dementia had proved successful. “Over a five year period we’ve had a reduction of about 52 per cent in the use of those medications,” said Professor Burns.

“And for new residents it’s been about 66 per cent.”