Despite my now extensive dementia portfolio, I very rarely write about research. Partly because it's not an area of expertise for me in the way that care and support it. Partly because I'm not particularly scientifically minded. But mostly because it is something I thought I had very little influence over, until now.
I've recently completed filming for the G8 Dementia Summit. The final edited film will feature both carers and people living with dementia, and has a dual purpose: Firstly to ensure that the voice of lived experience features at the Summit, and secondly to inspire the leaders in the room, and everyone watching the live stream around the world, to make a real and lasting commitment to improving the lives of the millions of people affected by dementia.
The focus of the Summit is on research into the different forms of dementia, their causes, treatments and the holy grail of finding a cure for each of them. How much progress is made in London on 11 December is down to many factors including the political, the financial and ultimately the will of those in the room. Will they be inspired enough to make the sort of commitment into researching the different forms of dementia that is so desperately hoped for by the many people who have experienced dementia first hand? As someone whose dad lived with vascular dementia for 19 years and died as a result of it, I will be hoping for a positive outcome.
If you haven't been personally touched by dementia you may be wondering why it deserves this platform. Why aren't other diseases afforded the same global attention you may ask? But that's just it, they have been. HIV/AIDS featured prominently in the 2005 G8 Summit. In the UK alone, cancer has a research budget that is eight times greater than dementia. Advances in medicine mean that life-expectancy has increased and more people than ever before are experiencing dementia, yet our knowledge simply hasn't caught up.
We need to know more about the physical changes in the brain, and we need to know a lot more about treatment. I'm anticipating that much of the focus at the Summit will be on pharmacological advances, which have their place of course, but with so many anecdotal accounts of the positive experiences afforded by therapeutic non-drug interventions, I would really like to see these backed by a solid evidence base that gives them the credibility I believe they deserve.
I want nations worldwide to commit to joining forces in order to pool our knowledge, avoid replicating work and actually make tangible and lasting progress. We need a determined and positive approach to meeting research objectives, underpinned by every leader recognising that the prevalence of dementia now, and predictions for the future, mean that this must be an urgent priority. If every nation could form, however simply structured, a national dementia strategy that gives their current and future governments a clearly defined commitment to implementing improvements, we would be a small step closer to better care and treatment for all.
Of course one Summit will never 'cure' dementia. It won't please everyone, undoubtedly we will all wish the outcomes were more revolutionary, delved deeper into the issues and pushed our policy makers further towards sustainable progress than can be achieved in just one day. But it's a start, and for anyone who doubts the wisdom of having a G8 Dementia Summit I would say this: Surely having dementia discussed on the world stage by people who, like it or not, are the ones deciding on the commitment each of the major nations will make towards dementia has got to be a good thing.
Being an Ambassador for BRACE, one of the leading dementia research charities in the UK, has given me the chance to understand more about the complexities of research into dementia, and the passion of the people who are painstakingly trying to improve our knowledge. I hope that the G8 Dementia Summit will back all of those passionate professionals in their work for the good of society as a whole.
My message to the select few who will sit in Lancaster House on 11 December is this: People with dementia now, and in the future, deserve better. The world is watching.
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