Tackling the challenges of dementia

Tackling the challenges of dementia

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is pleased to announce that it’s awarding £20 million to six research projects, which will significantly add to our understanding of dementia.

Amongst other things, the research, carried out along with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will look at how we can better prevent dementia, and improve the quality of life of those with dementia and their carers.

There are currently 44 million people in the world living with dementia, and by 2050 this number is set to treble to 135 million. Following on from last year’s announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron of plans to tackle the ‘national crisis’ posed by dementia, this week ministers, researchers, pharmaceutical companies and charities are gathering in London for the G8 dementia summit.

The summit aims to agree what can be done to stimulate greater investment and innovation in dementia research.

“Dementia is a major challenge for our society, and it is imperative to develop an understanding of the needs of those with dementia, their families and the communities they live in,” ESRC Chief Executive Paul Boyle commented.

“These six funded projects will provide much-needed evidence for changes in future health and social care policy, as well as practical guidance for charities and third sector organisations working with sufferers of dementia,” he added.

The first study, ‘Neighbourhoods and Dementia,’ will focus on the local neighbourhoods and networks in which people with dementia and their carers live. The study will explore what makes a dementia friendly neighbourhood.

“In our 5-year study we want to celebrate the achievements, growth and contribution that people with dementia and their carers make to society,” says lead researcher Professor John Keady from The University of Manchester.

Another study, ‘Promoting Independence in Dementia (PRIDE)’, aims to identify how social and lifestyle changes may help reduce the risk of developing dementia and disability. The researchers will develop and evaluate an effective social intervention to support independence and quality of life for people with early stage dementia and their carers.

A third study, ‘ Managing Agitation and Raising Quality of Life’ aims to increase knowledge of agitation, a distressing symptom of dementia. Agitation occurs in about 50 per cent of people with moderate or severe dementia.

The symptoms, which signify unmet need, include restlessness, pacing, shouting or even verbal or physical aggression.

The research team, led by Professor Gillian Livingston at University College London, will develop, test and implement a manual to train staff about how best to reduce agitation and improve quality of life in care homes.

Professor Martin Knapp at the London School of Economics and Political Science will lead another study, which will develop a publicly available tool to help meet the future needs of dementia patients and their carers. A model will be developed from this which will enable us to better predict the future costs of dementia.

The fifth study, ‘Living well with Dementia’, is being led by Professor Linda Clare from Bangor University. The study will identify what helps people to live well, or makes it difficult to live well in the context of having dementia or caring for a person with dementia.

Factors that may allow people to live well include the assets and resources they have available, and the support they get from other people in their network.

Alzheimer’s disease is often seen as a disorder solely of memory, however the disease also affects the visual areas of the brain leading to problems seeing what and where things are.

The final study, ‘Seeing what they see,’ led by Dr Sebastian Crutch from University College London, will investigate the effects of visual aids on the wellbeing and quality of life of both patients with dementia and carers.