Less than half of people suffering from dementia are being formally diagnosed because doctors fear stigmatising their patients, according to the Health Secretary.
Jeremy Hunt released this “dementia map” of England showing that in some areas, fewer than four in every 10 dementia sufferers have their condition recognised by the NHS.
Mr Hunt said he was disclosing the diagnosis rates in an effort to drive up standards and end what campaigners have called a postcode lottery in the treatment of dementia sufferers. The figures show stark differences in diagnosis rates even between neighbouring clinical commissioning group areas.
Ministers suspect that in many cases, doctors are declining to make a formal diagnosis of dementia because they believe that doing so will cause undue distress to patients and relations.
The sense of stigma surrounding dementia means that many sufferers are not properly treated, holding back the search for a cure, Mr Hunt said.
He called for dementia to be treated as a “normal” disease. In an attempt to change attitudes towards the condition, the minister is launching a “social movement” to encourage media, business and charity leaders to discuss dementia more freely.
The minister also wants to expand the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends scheme, adopted by some Right at Home offices, which aims to educate people about the condition. By 2015, a million people should be taking part in the scheme, he suggested.
Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Hunt compared contemporary attitudes towards dementia to previous generations’ approach to conditions such as cancer and HIV/Aids.
“In the 1960s people were too scared to talk about cancer,” he said. “In the 1980s the same happened with HIV/Aids. After a long and painful journey, we are now much more open about both and better able to tackle them. We now need to do the same with dementia.”
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