08/03/2016 10:18 GMT | Updated 09/03/2017 05:12 GMT

Highlighting Dementia on International Women's Day

Dementia is one of the great challenges of our age. How we tackle the impact of this devastating disease - on those affected, on their loved ones and on the health and care system - is a benchmark against which this generation will be judged. Last year the Prime Minister laid out his challenge on making the UK the most dementia friendly country in the world by 2020. In the last few days we launched our plans to rise to this challenge, publishing a detailed roadmap to how we get there.

So, why highlight dementia on International Women's Day? It's important to recognise that the burden of the disease falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women. Half a million women every year are living with dementia in the UK according to a report from Alzheimer's Research UK.

As a government, we have made dementia a priority. We want to make sure that those with this condition receive the best care available, and that their carers are given the support they need.

We know from the Alzheimer's Society's findings that people with dementia experience longer stays in hospital. Hospitals can be frightening for some people with dementia. That is why we have committed to safer, more consistent care in hospitals throughout the week, as well as better integration with community services.

While those with advanced dementia deserve the very best and safest care, we know that we cannot neglect those who have an increased risk of developing the disease. Awareness raising, education and discussion of risk reduction for dementia in the NHS Health Check will be extended for the first time to those aged 40 or older, down from 65 currently, in a pilot scheme.

Developing dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. Making informed choices today can have a huge influence on our health and can reduce our risk of living with dementia in the future. Public Health England's new One You campaign aims to give adults the motivation and support they need to make simple lifestyle changes to improve their health now, and reduce the risk of developing conditions like dementia in later life. This includes things like eating well, moving more, quitting smoking and drinking less.

Families want to know that their loved one is receiving the best possible care following diagnosis. So for the first time ever, leaders across the health, social care, local government and voluntary sector organisations have signed a joint declaration, committing to improving care and support to people with dementia following diagnosis.

We also want to win the race to find a cure, or disease-modifying therapy, for dementia. We're investing up to £150 million into developing a Dementia Research Institute. The Prime Minister has also recently appointed a new dementia envoy, ARUK's David Mayhew, to continue to take our leadership in dementia research to the world.

On this day in particular, as I write this on the train to Manchester, to speak at the ARUK Conference, I am reminded of the many women who are leading the fight against dementia. Women such as Professor Maria Spillantini, who was the first person to identify a key protein in dementia; Dr Selina Wray, who is developing a new stem cell technique that will help with new drug development; and Dr Tara Spires-Jones, whose work will help prevent cell damage caused by Alzheimer's.

These women are leading the way. And through their efforts, and those of the wider research community, we hope to help many women and men - and their families - to live healthier, fuller lives.

Jane Ellison is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health