This post was contributed by George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer’s Society.
Pearl McCreadie gave up work when her husband, John, was diagnosed with dementia. In doing so, she swapped her regular nine to five job with 24/7 care. As his dementia progresses, John needs ever more help with day-to-day tasks. Pearl helps him to wash, shave, clean his teeth and go to the toilet.
She ensures he takes his medication at the right time. Often when John wakes in the night, Pearl is up to help him. John wants to remain at home and Pearl wouldn’t have it any other way – motivated by love, she only wants what’s best for him. She does, however, need more support.
2015 is the year of a general election. While the question of who will be in government remains to be decided, one of the greatest challenges that they face is already set.
225,000 people develop dementia every year.
One thing is clear dementia will not be solved by the election. Alzheimer’s Society has published new research which shows there will be 850,000 people with dementia living in the UK by 2015, more than ever before. 1 million are set to develop the condition by 2051 and the cost of this unfolding epidemic has hit £26 billion a year, a price tag which is set to rise too. Most striking of all this is that people with dementia, their carers and families are shouldering two-thirds of this cost themselves.
This army of unpaid carers – wives, husbands, daughters and sons – hold up a social care system on its knees, a system where people with dementia have to pay in excess for the most basic of care. A system which successive governments have failed to invest in resources to help our most vulnerable maintain independent and remain with their families in the home.
In Britain, people spend 1.3 billion hours a year caring for someone with dementia. They give up their time, their savings and often their careers to ensure their loved one is well looked after. The alternative is often 15 minute care visits – barely enough time to help someone who is frail and unwell out of bed and down the stairs, let alone washed, dressed and supported to eat breakfast.
The shocking reality is that the hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers, people who work tirelessly to ensure their loved one with dementia can remain in their own home, are not being looked after in return.
Alzheimer’s Society surveyed people with dementia. Of those who are looked after by an unpaid carer, 43 per cent said their carer received no help with their caring role. These are people who seldom raise their voice to moan or begrudge their role. They want the best for the person they look after and this often becomes their sole focus and purpose.
This new research exposes the staggering financial and human impact of dementia. While the last few years have seen unprecedented attention on the condition in the political sphere, a fragile health and social care service will have to face its greatest demographic challenge yet.
As the first wave of baby boomers go into their 70s in 2015, the generation which changed and challenged expectations throughout their lives will change and challenge expectations of health and social care services, not least because of the demographic pressure they place on it. Health and social care will have to change in order to survive.
We urgently need to end the divide between health and social care. We cannot leave an army of tens of thousands of unpaid carers bearing the brunt. If you have cancer or heart disease you can quite rightly expect that the care you need will be free. That is just not the case for people with dementia. Families are forced to break the bank to pay for basic care for a loved one.
While government has woken up to the challenge dementia presents, the scale and cost of dementia outlined in our report reveals we need radical solutions and serious funding commitments to put social care on a sustainable footing.We need one system, which is designed to meet the needs of people and sufficiently funded. The two go hand in hand. Without both, we are destined to fail.