North East dementia sufferers miss out on correct diagnosis

MORE than half of dementia sufferers in the North East are not being properly diagnosed, new figures show.

MORE than half of dementia sufferers in the North East are not being properly diagnosed, new figures show.

Diagnoses of people with Alzheimer’s jumped by 10% last year, with more than 1,000 more patients identified as having the disease in Northumberland, Durham, Tyne and Wear in 2012.

But experts at the Alzheimer’s Society say less than half of those suffering are actually being diagnosed, and support for people dealing with the disease is being eroded by cuts to charities and other organisations in the public sector.

Caroline Burden, the Newcastle-based area manager for Alzheimer’s Society in the North East, said the increase in diagnosis was “encouraging” but said the NHS needs to do more to ensure the 12,561 people it is believed have the condition but no diagnosis get the care they require.

“Half of people that are living with dementia aren’t receiving the support, benefits and the treatments that are often available,” she said.

“But the NHS has made a commitment to improving diagnosis rates so now it is time for that commitment to turn into action locally.”

Alzheimer’s campaigner Barbara Dow, from Amble, said the first stage of that drive had to be encouraging more people to visit their GPs if they were worried, and for doctors to more readily listen to the concerns of family members.

“It’s very difficult for people who are forgetful in the first place to recognise they are forgetful,” said Mrs Dow, who lost her husband Al to Alzheimer’s.

“But if you are worried about your memory, or your family and friends are, then go and see someone. Bite the bullet and tell your doctor. If you get there soon enough there’s all sorts of help.”

Age UK welfare centre manager Angela Watt said the new figures tallied with what she was seeing on the ground and said more should be done to support families and carers supporting dementia sufferers.

“I think there should be more done to support carers and extended family because they are the ones who are losing an individual in front of their eyes and go through a grieving process before the person even dies,” said Ms Watt, who runs the Rowan Croft centre in Killingworth, the Cedar Grove centre in Wallsend and the Linskill specialist dementia centre in North Shields.

“It is so hard to lose someone bit by bit. I spoke to one man who said he took his wife to see his daughter down south. It had only been four weeks since they had last been there, but when she walked in his wife said ‘who are you?’

“He also showed his wife pictures of their wedding day and she was able to name everyone. When he pointed to the picture of himself she said ‘that’s my husband’.

“He then asked her who he was, and she said his name, but she could no longer connect that the two people were the same. It was very upsetting.”

Ms Watt said that over the last six months more and more people were being referred to Age UK centres so that carers could enjoy some respite and she was worried for the future of dementia care.

“Diagnosing dementia at an earlier stage is just the first part,” she said. “You need to put in place care on an ongoing basis.

“But with local authority cuts I think more and more of that care will fall to charities. Yet because of the recession and funding cuts the amount of charities that have gone out of business.”

Page 2 - 'There is a life after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis' >>

'There is a life after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis'

FORMER science teacher Ron Shuttleworth, 81, from Ponteland, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four and a half years ago after experiencing problems with his memory.

“He would forget to come and pick me up from somewhere,” said wife Maria, 75, herself also a former business teacher at Ponteland Community High. “Or he wouldn’t know what day it was. I know that happens to a lot of people but when you’re genuinely not sure if it’s Monday or Saturday, it’s clearly a problem.

“I spoke to a lot of friends to ask advice, because I knew he wouldn’t willingly go to the doctors and see what was wrong.

“It was very difficult because he couldn’t see that anything was wrong, and even family and friends couldn’t tell because around other people he was making more of an effort. In the end I made a double appointment and told him he had to come with me.”

Mrs Shuttleworth said she feels she was lucky in that her husband’s GP was a former A-level physics pupil who knew him before he was ill and so straight away was able to seek help for the couple.

After a psychiatrist confirmed a diagnosis of dementia Mr Shuttleworth, who also worked at Dame Allan’s school in Newcastle, was placed on medication that helped slow his cognitive degeneration.

Four and a half years later, Mrs Shuttleworth is still remarkably positive, saying the pair make the most of the “good days” they have together, and taking her own time to pursue hobbies such as quilting while her husband attends The Grange day centre in Throckley.

“I try to take him out every day. If it’s nice we’ll go and walk along the coast as that’s wonderful for him and doesn’t do me any harm either.

“There is a life after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It’s hard sometimes but we get to enjoy the good days.”


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