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An unexpected spin off the statistics about dementia

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I remember sitting with colleagues where I worked at Help the Aged (before it merged with Age Concern) eight or nine years ago. We were talking about the charity's future and discussing which issue, pertinent to our ageing society, might provide a focus for the charity if it had to focus on one topic. We picked 'dementia', knowing it affects more than 800,000 people in the UK, that many live people with undiagnosed disease and that there is no treatment or cure. Much shaking of heads. The public might put dementia in the 'too difficult' box. Like many disabilities associated with ageing and the discrimination against older people that existed then and exists today, we worried that it might be hard to fundraise for something that 'just happens to older people' and which had no cure.

In many ways, we were proved wrong. Since then, the situation has changed and voluntary organisations including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Alzheimer Society, SCIE, the Mental Health Trust, the Department of Health and many others have worked to change public perceptions about dementia and to highlight how people can live and live well with dementia. Through organisations like DEEP, people with the dementia are consulted and their views influencing with policy and practice and in some areas of the country, communities are trying to galvanise local support for people dementia and their families. Dementia has made it on to the political and social map. Who could have predicted that Cabinet members would agree to become Dementia Champions, a triumph that was reported at a recent Dementia Action Alliance meeting?

But would male-dominated fields such as politics, science and medicine have been quite so interested if it had been highlighted early on that it is women who are disproportionately affected by dementia? Would knowing that two out of every three people with the disease are women and that more family carers for people with dementia are women have made these male-dominated professions less determined to focus on dementia?

There's an election coming up. Will those keen for election target female voters by saying that they will fight for more dementia research and services, recognising the disease has a greater impact on women than men?

Congratulations to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for funding the 'women and dementia' project. Many women and men applaud the start of this important work and hope it will continue to secure funding. Sometimes may wonder why it's taken us all so long to acknowledge the link between dementia and women. But has it, in some odd way, worked to our advantage?

Pamela Holmes. Practice Development Manager, the Social Care Institute for Excellence - www.scie.org.uk

Written 2015-01-06

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