There appears to be a conflict in the midst of how society currently views dementia. On the one hand, surveys tell us that we fear dementia more than any other condition and that we believe it to be one of our greatest medical challenges. This suggests there is already an awareness of the just how much of an issue dementia has become.
On the other hand relatively few people understand what dementia is: less than a quarter of us recognise that brain diseases – and Alzheimer’s is most common – are behind the distressing symptoms. So although we might be alert to the threat of the condition, for the most part we still don’t know what we’re dealing with.
Over the past year we have been conducting a programme of research with thousands of members of the public, our supporters and people affected by dementia. We have been getting under the skin of what people understand about the condition, how they feel about it as a medical challenge, and, for those affected, their reflections on the impact it has had on them personally and their families.
Our new awareness campaign kicks off with our television advert during the Britain’s Got Talent final on ITV1 this Sunday evening (31 May, around 8.40pm). It is seeking two important outcomes that our research has told us that we really need strive to achieve.
The first is around education. With so few people recognising that dementia is driven by diseases in the brain, it leaves a great many people believing the condition to be just an inevitability of age. And just as we can’t stop the years ticking by, what hope have we of avoiding dementia? This pervading view, perhaps above all others, is one that we simply have to challenge and change if we’re ever going to be serious about overcoming it.
So our campaign is designed to overturn this fatalism surrounding dementia. The leading cause of it, Alzheimer’s, causes the brain to shrink at 400% the rate of normal ageing, and an affected brain can differ in weight to a healthy brain by 140g – about the weight of an orange. But as alarming as these statistics might be, they remind us that if something is physical, then we can defeat it. Our research is aiming to disrupt these destructive physical processes, to slow the shrink and halt the loss.
Our second ambition is to inspire action. One of the most striking and consistent things that people with dementia have told us is that the condition takes everything from them. It strips away their control over their own lives and leaves them powerless. We have to give back power to people and families affected by dementia.
So we want to rally a fightback. We want to encourage a movement of people to come together with us to get behind research. Whether its participation in studies, brain donation, volunteering for us, supporting our scientists through fundraising, or speaking out, we’re asking people to join with us and that we don’t have to accept dementia as an inevitable part of our future.
Education and fightback. We believe that by lifting the shroud that hangs over dementia and revealing it for what it is – a collection of diseases that have weaknesses we can exploit, the fight can truly begin. With numbers living with dementia set to spiral as the population continues to age across the world, the time for this campaign is now.
Alzheimer’s Research UK has a singular focus. We know that the only long term solution to dementia is research. It’s a sad fact today that no dementia story will have a happy ending. But we believe that research can change the future. With your backing, we are a powerful force against dementia.