West Norfolk dementia diagnoses rise by 53% over five years
The number of people diagnosed with dementia in West Norfolk has risen by more than 50 per cent in five years, according to NHS data.
Analysis of the figures by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit has shown that there were 1,175 people on the dementia register in West Norfolk in April 2014, which rose to 1,802 by March 2019 – an increase of 53 per cent.
That works out to an average yearly increase of seven people on the register per 10,000 people.
This reflects the national picture – in England, the number of people on the register has risen from 332,000 to 470,000 in five years, an increase of around 41 per cent.
In the East of the country it’s a similar situation, where the total amount of people on the dementia register has grown from 37,000 to 56,000 – an increase of 53 per cent.
Meanwhile, in North Norfolk, there was a 33 per cent increase of people diagnosed with dementia over the five years, from 1,696 to 2,261, and in South Norfolk, there was a 61 per cent rise, from 1,486 to 2,390.
A drive to increase diagnosis rates and an ageing population were behind the growth, experts have said, while NHS England said it was a priority to diagnose dementia earlier so people could receive correct treatment.
Dr Karen Harrison Dening, head of research and publications at Dementia UK, said dementia is an issue that “needs tackling now”.
She said: “I think there are two main issues here. The first is that we are going to have a huge increase in population of older people, and one of the main risk factors of dementia is age.
“There is also going to be a reduction in the number of younger people who will be able to care for them.
“We still have a very, very poor response to this. We need to sharpen up considerably.
“Technology is getting better and we are starting to affect a diagnosis earlier but the question is, then what?
“The second element is there is a huge population that already has dementia. This is one aspect that concerns Dementia UK as there is a growing number of those people that we have a duty of care to. That is going to only increase in cost.”
Dr Harrison Dening added: “Care at the moment is very hit or miss. There are no standardised services across the country so it is still very much a postcode lottery as to what care and support you might receive.
“We rely heavily on families to care for their loved ones themselves.
“If you developed cancer in later life, the NHS would step in. Alzheimer’s (one type of dementia) and dementia is a brain disease, but the NHS doesn’t provide the same level of care and treatment as for other diseases and conditions.
“A third of us will die with or from dementia. This is an issue that needs tackling now.”
Professor Sube Banerjee is the executive dean at Plymouth University’s Faculty of Health, a professor of dementia and an old-age psychiatrist.
He said the 41 per cent increase in people with dementia diagnosed in England was a “reflection of NHS England’s strong priority to increase the diagnosis rate of people with dementia”.
“The underlying issue was that 10 years ago only a third of people with dementia were diagnosed and when they did it was late in the illness when it was too late to help them avoid the harms of dementia and help them to make choices about treatment,” Prof Banerjee added.
“The National Dementia Strategy suggested that we should double the number of diagnoses that were made in the UK and that was underlined as a priority by David Cameron in his Prime Minister’s Challenge.
“This set a target diagnosis rate of 67 per cent. I think that has been achieved.
“I suspect that finding is the end of the upward curve in diagnostic rates from that. This is also set against a background of an ageing population with a consequence of an increase in cases of dementia.”
On the causes of dementia, Prof Banerjee said: “Dementia is a syndrome caused by a number of illnesses, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s.
“There are a number of causes of dementia, including vascular dementia which is caused by problems with the blood vessels and circulation in the brain.
“What we’ve found is that what is good for your heart is good for your head. Having a healthy diet, stopping smoking, treating diabetes well and regular exercise all help to prevent it.”
Prof Banerjee added: “Dementia research has less funding than cancer research. There is wide agreement that there is a need to increase the amount of research spent on dementia nationally and internationally.
“There have been major improvements in that spend over the past five years but there is a lot more that needs to be done.
“We have been at it for less time than cancer, but our knowledge, understanding and evidence is developing faster and faster.”
In 2012, the government launched an initiative to increase the diagnosis rate of dementia.
At the time, it was estimated only 40 per cent of those living with the condition had been officially diagnosed.
Dementia care costs the UK just under £35bn per year, with two thirds of that being footed by families rather than the government.
Charities said care provision must improve, calling it a “ridiculous lottery”.
Ewan Russell, head of policy and campaigns at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Across the board we are seeing increasing numbers of people living with dementia and simply not enough support is being provided.”
Mr Russell said the charity had published a report from LSE which shows that by 2040 the number of people living with dementia will have doubled, but the costs of care for those people is going to triple.
“Costs have gone up to £35bn in 2019 and will have trebled to £94bn in two decades,” he added.
“Families are bearing two thirds of the costs of dementia care. With more people getting it, we do not think that that is sustainable at all.”
Mr Russell said the reason why families have to pay is because “often the support simply is not there and when it is there it is often poor quality”.
“It is heartbreaking and not right that people with dementia have to battle to get the care that they need,” he added.
“The government has to step in and boost people’s support. It is a ridiculous lottery that people with dementia can lose their homes and savings and that has to end.”
A spokesperson for NHS England said: “Spotting dementia in a timely way means people get the care they need, when they need it, so it’s good news that thanks to concerted efforts nationally and locally the NHS is now diagnosing more people than ever before, beating the target we set ourselves.
“As the population ages, dementia is becoming a challenge for more families, which is why the NHS Long Term Plan sets out a blueprint for older people’s care and makes early diagnosis and treatment for major health problems a top priority.”
More by this authorRebekah Chilvers