Dementia symptoms: Thousands living with undiagnosed dementia – early indications

John Barnes opens up on his aunt’s dementia on GMB

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New data released shows thousands in the UK could be living with undiagnosed dementia after said data showed referrals for the disease had nearly halved since the first national lockdown in early-2020.

Research suggests that if the health service had continued to function as it had pre-pandemic, there would have been around 140,000 dementia assessments between the beginning of 2020 and August 2022.

Instead, there have been just 73,000 in the same period; a drop of nearly 48 percent, one which has caused concern among charities and personnel from the NHS.

Speaking about the lack of diagnoses, Alzheimer’s Society’s James White said: “The pandemic is still causing major disruption and this drop in assessments is particularly alarming.

There has been considerable improvement in waiting times for elective surgery thanks to targeted efforts, while memory assessments for dementia are only operating at 58 percent capacity compared to pre-pandemic levels.”

White warned the impact was “unprecedented” and that behind the data “are tens of thousands of people feeling anxious, confused by symptoms, and desperately worried about the future”.

The charity White works for as their head of public affairs, Alzheimer’s Society, has been calling for an extra £70 million increase in funding for dementia research by the government.

Mr White said dementia diagnoses had “plunged to a five-year low and we estimate at least 30,000 extra people need to be diagnosed to get us back to pre-pandemic levels”.

The massive drop has caused concern among NHS personnel too. The health service’s national clinical director for dementia, Professor Alistair Burns said: “There are many things we can do in the NHS to care for and support people if they do get a diagnosis, and importantly, there is support for their families and carers too. The sooner we see you, the sooner we can support you and your loved ones.”

The report on the state of dementia diagnoses comes as the Government launches “Babs Army” in memory of the late actress Barbara Windsor, who died from the condition during the first year of the pandemic.

At the announcement of the new campaign, the outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government was committing an extra £95 million to dementia research.

The army which the Government is asking people to join will be made up of volunteers who will take part in clinical trials for new preventative therapies.

In a statement, Mr Johnson said: “Dame Barbara Windsor was a British hero. I am delighted that we now honour Dame Barbara in such a fitting way.”

Meanwhile, as Babs Army recruits, thousands wait as data shows 13,800 are on waiting lists for dementia related services such as memory clinics.

How big is the dementia problem in the UK?

It’s significant. Every year, around 67,000 people will die from dementia in the UK; the same as a large capacity football stadium.

Furthermore, data suggests one third of people born today will develop dementia in their lifetime. In comparison, for cancer it’s one in two.

While doctors are unable to prevent the dementia tragedies of today, they are working to prevent the tragedies of tomorrow.

Early indications of the disease to look out for include:

  • Problems managing behaviour and emotions
  • Finding social situations difficult.
  • Losing interest in relationships
  • Personality changes such as loss of empathy
  • Hallucinations.

What are the main risk factors for dementia?

The main risk factors for dementia are:
• Ageing
• Gender and sex
• Cognitive reserve
• Ethnicity
• Health conditions and diseases
• Lifestyle factors.

Among lifestyle factors, examples include smoking and alcohol consumption as well as a poor diet, and lack of exercise.

Furthermore, recent data and reports suggest air pollution also plays a key role in the likelihood of a dementia diagnosis, this was a theory reinforced by the recent release of a Government report into the matter.

This report concluded that air pollution played a key role in raising the likelihood of dementia and cognitive decline, a timely conclusion during a period where the effects of global warming are beginning to be felt year-round and by all.

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