New figures say that dementia diagnoses have increased 60 percent in England in just the past 7 years, but what is the reason behind this increase?
The figures come courtesy of the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which collates and monitors health information data from across England. The latest release dated July 30 tells that about 344,000 people in England were diagnosed with dementia in 2013-2014. A more detailed breakdown of that figure can be found here. That’s a marked increase even on last year, when figures suggested 319,000 diagnoses, and a huge jump from the first collection year of 2006-2007 when 213,000 people were diagnosed.
So are doctors over-diagnosing? Probably far from it. Health experts have said that the above figure may not even be a truly representative figure, and that up to 670,000 people are likely to suffer from dementia, thus leaving around half without a diagnosis. The UK health authority has actually insisted that it wants more diagnoses because doing so allows for early intervention, but even factoring this in, dementia prevalence seems to be rising rapidly. So why is this the case?
We’re getting better at diagnosing patients, for one. Another is that our ability to track dementia diagnoses and record them for national statistics has also improved. Another fact, and this may be the critical one, is that we have an aging population that is living much longer than it used to. This increases the likelihood of a dementia diagnosis related to general old age.
Those diagnoses are critical, though. Hilary Evans, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, stresses that an early diagnosis is important.
“Dementia is one of the most feared conditions for many,” she said. “But an accurate and timely diagnosis can be important for people to be able to access support and existing treatments — as well as helping people to make sense of the symptoms they are experiencing. These latest figures further underline the urgent need for better treatments to help the hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by this devastating condition.”
What is Dementia?
Dementia, similar in this aspect to conditions like autism, isn’t actually one single condition but a syndrome which covers a collection of symptoms that all betray cognitive impairment and can include:
- loss of memory
- decline in thinking speed
- a loss of mental agility
- a decline in language skills
- a lack of comprehension
- a decline in the ability to judge a situation
Dementia usually burdens the over 65s, but it can occur for a lot of different reasons. In some cases it can be linked to an underlying existing health condition, for instance HIV or vascular dementia which is related to a stroke, or can be related to more common ailments like Alzheimer’s disease.
Unfortunately, all types of dementia are progressive, meaning that over time, cognitive impairment will worsen. However, research has shown that how quickly that will happen depends on the person, and scientists have demonstrated that early intervention can help to slow the progression of the illness. A significant body of research has also shown that once we do have a diagnosis of dementia, we may be able to recover lost memories and help give back some of the cognitive power that dementia has stolen through a variety of stimulating activities ranging from listening to music to gardening and being out in nature.
Seen through this lens, the rising numbers of dementia diagnoses may not actually be a bad thing. Indeed, it could be key in helping dementia sufferers hold on to the memories and independence they still have.
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