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Norman Lamb writes: dementia, loneliness and how we can help

May 12, 2014 9:38 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Writing in the Observer, Liberal Democrat Minister of State for Care and Support Norman Lamb explains how a programme by the Alzheimer's Society helps people to understand dementia better.

It is four o'clock in the morning. A man has been roused from an already fitful sleep by his wife. She is upset and confused. And she has wet the bed. He has to comfort her and change the sheets at the same time. Eventually he is able to return to bed and get a little bit of rest before his wife wakes up again. Then he will face a day of enormous challenges, before the night cycle repeats itself.

He does it because he loves her and because she still counts. Theirs is not a life devoid of any joy or pleasure. But dementia can be a cruel condition, both for those who have it and for the people who love and care for them.


Yet these two are comparatively lucky, because they have each other. Dementia combined with loneliness is truly devastating. Tragically, it is a situation in which many more people are due to find themselves.

The Campaign to End Loneliness calculates that some 800,000 people in England are chronically lonely. Forty-six per cent of people aged 80 or over report feeling lonely at least some of the time. Meanwhile, one in three people aged over 65 will go on to develop dementia.

And dementia and loneliness already meet all too frequently. The Alzheimer's Society has found that a third of people with dementia have lost friends. Nearly two-thirds of those with dementia who live by themselves feel lonely. Some 5% of people with the condition have not told friends about their diagnosis. All of this is deeply distressing.

So we need an assault on the twin epidemics of dementia and loneliness. Of course we have to find new ways to manage dementia and ultimately to cure it. But in the meantime, we must do more to help people cope with it.

Helping people live well with dementia is a big priority for this government and an essential step in creating a fairer society.

But responsibility does not just rest on the shoulders of politicians and health and care professionals. Compassion for others is a moral imperative that none of us should ignore.

That's why the Alzheimer's Society's Dementia Friends programme is so important. It supports people who want better to understand all the implications of the condition. I have gone through the programme and become a Dementia Friend, and it is hugely worthwhile and informative.

Last week saw celebrities and people living with dementia teaming up with the Dementia Friends Campaign to encourage even more of us to sign up. One million are expected to be recruited by 2015.

We are championing dementia-friendly communities, where more of us can learn about dementia and where people with it are encouraged and helped to lead fulfilling lives. More than 50 cities, towns and villages are already taking local action to become dementia friendly.

All of this should be just the start, the beginning of a massive social movement. If just a fraction of the many millions of Guardian and Observer readers signed up to be a Dementia Friend by visiting www.dementiafriends.org.uk it could have a major and enduring impact. And it would be a fantastic way of helping to overcome our loneliness epidemic.

Just as good neighbours are concerned about crime, so they should be concerned that the people who live in their community are properly looked after.

We all matter, we all need to be loved, and we should all do all we can to look out for others remembering just how vulnerable and unhappy we would be if we were lonely ourselves.