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‘Dementia changes everything . . . we either adapt or face ruin’



"Due to the complexity of the swallowing process, many adverse health conditions can influence swallow function. Swallowing disorders may occur because of wide variety of neurological and non-neurological conditions such as oropharyngeal or esophageal cancer, neurologic diseases such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Alzheimer’s disease. Stroke is the leading cause of neurologic dysphagia. “Common complications of dysphagia in both stroke and dementia include malnutrition and pneumonia” (Sura, L. 2012)."

This year 225,000 people, equivalent to the population of Milton Keynes, will be diagnosed with dementia. Some 60,000 people, the population of Maidenhead, will die directly from the disease. By 2025 the total number of people in the UK living with dementia will have exceeded a million for the first time — two for every doctor and nurse employed in the NHS.

Dementia is now the leading cause of death in Britain, and it is also untreatable. More than that, the most promising recent drugs, developed using theories about the disease on which the research community has pinned two decades of hope, have failed.

Now scientists and charities have said that it is time to adjust to a new future, in which dementia is a part of all our lives — as carers, patients, or just members of a society in which, for economic reasons if nothing else, those suffering from the disease will have to integrate into our communities rather than live on the fringes. The age of dementia is upon us, and over the next four days in a series of articles The Times will be exploring what that means.

For Chris Whitty, chief scientific adviser for the Department of Health, it is “one of the biggest challenges to our society and the NHS”. Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, goes further, calling it a “ticking time bomb”.

“Dementia is a devastating disease that does not respect borders and which affects some of the most vulnerable people on earth. Defeating it is one of the greatest global health challenges of our time. To tackle it, the world and its leaders must come together,” he said.

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